UEFA's rigid stance hurts football
Two years ago, England were unfairly ushered out of the World Cup after a vital goal by Frank Lampard was incorrectly waved off. On Tuesday night, England were on the beneficial end of a similar blown call, when Ukraine had Marko Devic's goal inexplicably disallowed.
England captain Steven Gerrard called it “a bit of luck.” Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin was so incensed he challenged a journalist in the press room to a fight.
But all of us who follow the game should see it for what it is: a sick joke.
The fact that goal-line technology is not in the game now, two years after one of the most famous blown calls in any sport, isn’t just disheartening — it’s scandalous. It is a willful refusal on the part of the people who run this sport to acknowledge that times have changed.
This would be fodder for comedy if it weren’t for UEFA's reactionary opposition to reality. Listening to them, these governors of the game would have you believe that Michel Platini and his cohorts are the only ones standing between the sport of soccer and total barbarism. In this peculiar worldview, conceding that a system like tennis’ proven Hawk-Eye might actually help the game is tantamount to heresy.
In the eyes of UEFA, this would open a Pandora’s box of stoppages in play and the destruction of the game as we know it. This is nonsense. In truth, few soccer fans want to see the kind of invasive replay usage that has come to infect the NFL and the NHL. What they do want is the limited use of goal-line technology.
But UEFA’s religious zeal in the name of “protecting” the game is actually driving it into a ditch. We live in an era where hundreds of millions of people around the world watch every single major game — and every single one of them can see precision, slow-motion replays of every goal. The only people who cannot are the ones who actually matter: the on-field officials. And yet, these referees are the ones who take the brunt of the criticism. They are left stranded by the refusals to adopt even the most rudimentary forms of assistance. The result is that trust in the game itself has eroded.
Now, UEFA doesn’t want you to hear this, but soccer is actually a game in deep trouble. Yes, it is more popular than ever, and yes, the Euros are doing gangbuster business in those “new frontiers,” a term referring to markets such as this American one. But with that new-found exposure has come some big costs.
Americans have a pretty well-developed sense of fairness — recall this is a group that took umbrage to our national team managers’ mild suggestion that our players might be a bit “nastier” to our opposition. Americans hate flopping and despise play-acting. They question the crooked bidding process that awarded the World Cup to a nation that doesn’t seem able to handle it. Many Stateside are revolted by the continuing match-fixing scandals that plague Italy.
But most of all, Americans hate blown calls. They hate the idea that a perfectly good goal could be disallowed, or that a clear foul could go unpunished. It strikes at the heart of the national character, at the myth that hard work and fair play gets you places and that you reap exactly what you sow.
This is why the loudest calls for technology in soccer are coming from places like New York and Annapolis. It is why MLS seems eager to institute some sort of goal-line tech. And while Americans are hardly infallible, on this one they are right and most of the people that run the game of soccer are wrong.
Today, FIFA president Sepp Blatter finally weighed in, calling goal-line technology a “necessity.” It’s nice to hear that, and let us hope he now will force through a change. But the opposition remains so strong in Europe that it is difficult to see how even the man who runs the game can get this job done.
Tuesday night, it was Ukraine who felt the sting. Two years ago, it was England. Who will be next before the change that is so desperately needed comes?