Wednesday, July 14, 2010

FIFA leaving Football in the dark ages

Whenever a World Cup tournament ends there always seems to be a post mortem on how successful the tournament was, who really were the best players, teams, managers etc. For broadcasters the ratings bonanza during month long coverage is analysed and translated into dollars and cents. Corporate sponsors count the millions, and in some cases billions made in advertising; and then there is FIFA who looks at all these things combined.

For us football faithful we look at not only where the games has been up until the end of the tournament, but also to the future and where it is going. If you look at the World Cup in political terms you would call it the end of a Presidential term, where the game is judged based on the previous 4 years. When I look back, one very important and highly controversial issue really came to light in the past 4 years. It is argument for and against the use of video replay.

The only other issue that causes nearly as much debate is diving in the game, which was the major topic between 2002-2006. The official stance of FIFA the world governing body is that video replay is not a tool to be used for football. According to FIFA president...or evil overload depending on how you view the man, Sepp Bladder has publicly said that instant replay "Would take away the spontaneity and fascination of our game - we must keep football with a human face," he adds "Until I am no longer president, there will be no chance [for video replays]." These comments came just after the 2006 World Cup in which there were again some very controversial calls that cost teams chances to progress in the tournament.

Although at first I agreed with Bladder, that stopping to check replay screens would slow down and impede the flow of the game. I have come around on the issue. The plan fact is aside from cricket, football remains the only major organized sport that refuses to use technology to help judge a match. The lack of video replay has cost club teams millions in lost revenue because a bad call got them dropped from the top division, national teams have missed out on qualifying for regional, continental or world tournaments due to a sloppy decision. In almost every case a simple replay could have set the decision right.

With that said I do still agree with Bladder on one thing, I do not want to see the human element of the referee taken away by technology. So much of the intrigue and passion for the game stems from questioning a call  by the ref. When replay comes to football, as I believe that FIFA cannot hold out much longer from the cries for it. I would only like it to be used in two scenarios,
  1. To determine if the ball did or did not cross the line for a goal: FIFA needs to forget the "Goal line technology" idea, putting chips in a ball or magnetic fields in the ground under the goal line is ridiculous compared to having one or two cameras at the back of the goal watching play.
  2.  Questionable offside calls: In the modern game where the game play is now so quick, linesmen/women need help.
These are the only two instances where replay in football are really needed. Match officials take a lot of heat for calls they miss, but when really looking at the game they usually get it right 9 times out of 10. Notice also that I did not include checking for dives in the list. Video replay will not stop players from diving, plus replays cannot record a players intent, you don't know if it was his or her intent to deceive the ref. That decision must be made by the officials alone.

For years the argument against replay has been a time factor, it slows down a game that for the most part is all about continuous action. The majority of football fans that want video judgements agree that this continuous nature cannot be tampered with. Which is why video replay should be watched by the fourth official that is on the sideline. This can be done quickly due to the fact the forth offcial is looking at two clear cut scenarios, did the whole ball cross the line? or was he offside? This Unlike the NFL which needs two t.v breaks before the decision is made due to the complex nature of the things the ref must review. By keeping the replay rules to just two instances you also defeat the argument that the "human face" is lost on the game. The ref will still have to make the majority of the calls and the linesmen/women will only have to use replay when they are unsure of an offside. Below I've added a video of where Sir Alex Ferguson feels replay stand in the game.

At the end of the day as I stated earlier FIFA will have to adopt replay as a method to judge matches at some point, and I believe that time is sooner rather than later. Over the past year alone we have seen three major incidents (Henry handball against Ireland, England no goal call against Germany, Tevez offside goal against Mexico) when replay would have helped spare the game the unsavory spotlight of unfairness. Will Bladder bow? Or will it take a new president to make positive change in the game? No one truly has the answer to that but Sepp Bladder, however if he is truly a "man of the game" as he claimed he was when he was elected, replay is coming for Brazil 2014.


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