The wonderful game of soccer’s time for a major overhaul has come. The 2010 South Africa World Cup showed how far the advances in technology have come with the ESPN camera angles. It also showed just how big a need there is for the game itself to be remedied by technology, as there were far too many big decision calls that were missed.
According a study on ESPNsoccernet.com, the FIFA referees’ committee determined that in the 62 games prior to the World Cup, refs in the tournament got their decisions correct over 96 percent of the time. That figure may be correct, but when too many of the biggest decisions throughout the tournament are missed – as the United States fans know via Koman Coulibaly’s terrible no-goal call in the Slovenia match – something needs to be drastically changed and fixed.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter has long been opposed to using replay technology. Suffice it to say, it will take a new president or governing board to overrule him on the issue. We may just be approaching that time, as significant figures in the game, such world-renowned soccer coaches Guus Hiddink and Arsene Wenger have been highly critical of his stance and have called for his resignation if the technology is not quickly instituted into the game. The response from the World Cup itself was that replay’s time has come.
To debunk Blatter’s argument, which for all intents and purposes represents FIFA’s stance, it’s important to look at his point of view, which has five primary components.
First of all, Blatter wants the human element to remain the determining factor for decisions made in the game. According to Blatter, it’s often the case that even after slow-motion replay, 10 different experts could come up with 10 different opinions on what the decision should have been.
The second and third arguments somewhat tie in together – the universality of the game and also the financial aspect.
Pertaining to the universality of the game, Blatter believes one of FIFA’s main objectives is to protect the game so that it is played in the same way no matter where you are in the world. From a small teenage game on the North Shore of Boston to the professional players they see playing on TV in the English Premier League, Blatter believes all facets of the game should be the same.
Because Blatter believes so much in the universality of the game, the financial aspect of implementing replay would be gargantuan. He believes both the experiments in terms of finding the appropriate replay for football/soccer and its application on a global scale would be too costly. Blatter also notes that some of the highest matches from around the world at the professional level are not even televised.
Four and five are also tied into together: the extended use of technology and the nature of the game. In Blatter’s mind, should these matches start using video replay for goal line decisions, in theory all the decisions of the match would begin to be called into question, something that would break up the nature of the game, which is a constant rhythm and flow. Stopping every two minutes would break up the dynamic of associated football and potentially deny teams opportunities to score.
There is some merit to Blatter’s position -- especially where he stands on the extended use of technology and how it would affect the ebb and flow, or as he described “nature of the game.” However, each of the rest of his points have major flaws in my opinion.
To first counter point FIFA and Blatter, I’ll lay out my own idea for what should be the start of the process of involving replay technology, which is very simple process:
Step 1: Use five referees on the field, as Union of European Football Associations experimented with during its Europa League tournament last season. The final two officials would be goal line officials with the power to alert the head referee for questionable calls in the box and goal-line decisions that need to be reviewed or flat-out called. This would hopefully help keep the human element of the game involved as much as possible at the forefront.
Step 2: Find the best replay technology, whether it be what ESPN used during the World Cup or a system similar to the Hawk-eye technology tennis uses during its Grand Slam tournaments. Once the application is available use the technology to use, review every goal or near-miss by a certified official up in a booth that is connected via headset to the referees on the field. The referee in the booth would have the power to over-rule goals via missed off-sides calls, award goals that completely crossed the line that were missed on the field, and essentially look at the entire spectrum of what was going prior to the goal or no-goal to award free kicks or penalty kicks that may have been missed. All this could be done in a matter of seconds without disrupting the flow of the game, especially after goals were scored where there are generally long celebrations.
There obviously needs to be some tinkering with my proposed system, but it’s a better system than what FIFA has in place currently and I trust that when enough smart people were put into the same room together to conference over a period of a couple of days, they would come up with a reasonable and rational decision.
As I’ve said earlier, it’s time for soccer to climb out of the dark ages. Replay technology has surpassed the human element on goal-line decisions, and these are calls that can be easily fixed to avoid the controversy that has been put into such a public spectacle.
Going right down the line here were a few of the major decisions that were missed:
- As previously mentioned, the U.S.’s goal vs. Slovenia that was disallowed for no apparent reason.
- U.S. goal vs. Algeria that was incorrectly disallowed.
- The goal for England vs. Germany that was not seen despite the fact that both the head referee and linesman were in the correct positions.
- The Carlos Tevez goal for Argentina that was two yards clearly off-sides.
- The David Villa goal for Spain vs. Portugal that was allowed although he was off-sides.
- The Nelson Valdez goal for Paraguay vs. Spain that was incorrectly disallowed for off-sides
You look at the other major professional sports in the United States and each one has some version of limited replay that has improved each sport without hurting quality of the game on the field. The other common theme is somewhat unfortunate in that each of these leagues were responsive rather proactive about improving their sports, and by that I mean it took several big controversies involved with their officiating to realize there was a problem that was easily correctable.
In the National Football League, where there are six officials on the field during games, it essentially took an entire season of atrocious and game-changing calls by Phil Luckett in 1998 (most notably the coin toss incident between Pittsburgh and Detroit on Thanksgiving) to finally institute replay in the NFL. Now there are two challenges for each team and booth replays inside the final two minutes of each half.
In Major League Baseball, where each city’s ballpark has its own unique configurations, it took nearly half a season’s worth of several obviously missed home run calls for commissioner Bud Selig to wake up to the fact his sport too needed replay of which implemented in August of 2008 for home run calls.
Looking at basketball and tennis as well, both sports have video replay to determine split-second decisions that are essentially impossible for the human eye to detect 100 percent foolproof without help. They make the sport better by getting calls right, which is what everyone involved from the players to coaches to ownership and fans all want.
You look these sports and they provide precedent for FIFA to implement a video replay technology that will remove the black-eye football/soccer suffered in WC 2010.
Blatter’s argument that 10 experts could at a replay and come up with 10 different decisions really is hog’s wash. The technology has advanced with high definition and other elements to make replays quite clear. The only two people on the earth that missed Frank Lampard’s goal for England vs. Germany were the head referee and the side official, and that goal could have been corrected in two seconds simply by someone in a booth talking to the head official and telling him he had missed the call.
Blatter’s argument that the universality of the game is not upheld worldwide from the most basic games to the biggest professional matches if replay were implanted only at the professional level also does not hold water. Referees already use technology at the professional level communicating with head sets, and speaking as a certified United State Soccer Federation certified official I can state I have never used a head set for any match that I have been a part of from the head official to the linesman.
Lastly, Blatter’s issue of money to implement replay for all these games at the professional level is utterly absurd. This is coming from the same guy who said FIFA would not put two extra officials on the field at the same time because they would save $500 per official.
Football/soccer is big business; in fact, it is the biggest sport in the world by a long shot. Just look at what ESPN paid for the rights to broadcast four tournaments – the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, the 2013 Confederations Cup, and the 2011 Women’s World Cup – a cool $425 million, and that’s just in the United States. Think about all the other countries that had to buy broadcasting rights, think about all the sponsorships that were sold, think about all the merchandising, ticket sales, and so on and so forth. I’m no marketing genius or businessman extraordinaire, but it doesn’t take much to understand tens billions of dollars are made through the game each year and even more so on World Cup years, so don’t come crying to me about replay technology – it’s a small expense to make the game better.
One of the biggest principles in the FIFA Laws of the Game is Law 18 -- Common sense: essentially using good or sound judgement with the combination of life’s experiences and instructional training to consistently produce expected outcomes on the field of play.
So here’s a little common sense, replay is good, replay is right, replay works, replay cuts through and captures the essence of what has actually happened and replay will save FIFA and football/soccer one major hassle.