FOX Soccer Exclusive
FIFA needs to adopt replay at World Cup
June 27, 2010 may go down as the day when soccer was forced to grow up.
After years of increasingly absurd arguments against using technologies widely embraced by other sports, FIFA saw their reticence come back to bite them as major blunders affected two games Sunday in the knockout round.
The entire world watched as the “human factor” cost a major European nation a goal this afternoon in Bloemfontein— and arguably that team a legitimate shot at a place in the next round. The only people in the world who didn’t know that Frank Lampard scored for England against Germany to tie the game up before the half at 2-2, were the referee and his assistant in the German half of the field.
In the evening, Mexico was sunk by a clearly offside goal scored by Argentina’s Carlos Tevez, and despite a touchline conference between ref Roberto Rosetti and his assistant Paolo Calcagno, that goal was allowed to stand.
Replays rapidly showed how wrong these calls were. The players knew it. The coaches knew it. The Jumbotron operator knew it. My aunt in Rhode Island, some 10,000 miles from the stadium, knew it. And according to the BBC, during the halftime intermission, the referees found out about it — and were devastated by it.
So if these blunders can be discovered so rapidly by replay, why isn’t soccer using it?
Because it is against one of the cardinal rules of the world game.
Soccer is a sport that pretends TV does not exist except when it comes time to sell the rights. FIFA has fought violently against adding replay and using goal-line technology, going so far as to spin out increasingly bizarre experiments — such as the ill-fated five-man officiating crew and the microchipped ball — in an effort to counter the now almost universal feeling that it is time the sport joined the rest of the world.
Why such resistance?
USA 1-2 (aet) Ghana | Recap
Argentina 3-1 Mexico | Recap
Brazil 3-0 Chile | Recap
Spain 1-0 Portugal | Recap
Some of FIFA’s misgivings about introducing replay are reasonable: They have watched our NFL make a fetish of the camera, and rightly note that a running-time game cannot be halted to allow official review. There is also a justified fear that if FIFA allow stoppages in play, it would change the essential nature of the game and possibly open the door for television companies to demand timeouts for advertising.
While they are right on resisting TV interference, that doesn’t mean replay couldn’t or shouldn’t come into the game. Other leagues, the NHL being the notable example, do not stop play while “missed” goals are reviewed. Sunday, the fourth official certainly could have reviewed Lampard’s goal while play continued, then signaled the referee to blow the whistle and restart from the center circle. After all, the officials now can communicate with one another thanks to their headsets — even if many suspect that the crew does not use them.
FIFA’s argument against that simple notion is, bluntly, absurd. They openly fret about the “loss of authority” from their man in the middle, as if somehow the honor of an official is more important than getting the calls correct. Since fans do not show up to see the officials, and since so much money is riding on the modern game, it’s difficult to take that claim with a straight face. And is the fourth official under such a workload on the sidelines that he couldn’t peek at a TV?
Goal-line technology is also well-tested — again, in other sports. It’s not infallible — the red light did not come on for Patrick Kane’s Stanley Cup-winning goal this month, but the TV replay clearly confirmed the score— but it is highly accurate. It’s difficult to imagine in an age in which baseballs can be tracked at over 100 mph and hockey pucks can be seen at 80 to 90 mph, that a soccer ball traveling 75 mph cannot be.
The truth is that until this World Cup there was no real will from FIFA to make changes that would level the playing field. As the Americans discovered against Slovenia, if you are not a “big power,” you don’t always get the big calls. FIFA’s president, Sepp Blatter, has claimed that this is part of the charm of the game.
Now that the founders of the game have been hijacked, one suspects that such “charm” appears grating, and that conversations in FIFA headquarters in Zurich will become more insistent.
It’s about time.