FIFA’s anachronistic approach to video technology

June 28, 2010


Add The Canary to the long list of those crying foul over FIFA’s obstinate stance regarding instant replays.

In two knockout games at yesterday’s World Cup, FIFA demonstrated in unerring fashion why it has been charitably described by critics as incompetent and woeful mismanagers of the game.

Frank-Lampard's non-goal. Peter Cziborra/Action Images.

Frank-Lampard's non-goal against Germany. Peter Cziborra/Action Images.

Frank Lampart had a goal disallowed despite it deflecting off the crossbar and hitting the ground at least a foot over the line in England’s 4-1 defeat to Germany and Carlos Tevez scored a goal which was clearly offside in Argentina’s 3-1 win over Mexico.

FIFA’s approach to technology is anachronistic. Whilst it encourages changes to the ball design – leading to the much maligned adidas Jabulani in 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ – it remains firmly medieval in its refusal to use instant replays.

Kris and I have written several articles including ‘Swimming – Credibility Crisis or Tempest in a Teapot? Assessing FINA’s competency to regulate high-tech swimsuits’ (2009 16 (3) Sport and the Law Journal 15-25) and ‘Assessing the Competency of Sport to Regulate Technology’ (International Journal of Sport and Society – accepted for publication) which discusses the role of technology in sport and argues, amongst other things, that sport in general is absent a guiding principle in its approach to technology.

Geoff Hurst's 1966 World Cup goal which did not cross the line. ITN Archive.

That balls which didn’t cross the line but were allowed to stand (i.e. Geoff Hurst’s controversial third goal in the final of England’s 1966 World Cup win over West Germany – which under the circumstances is understandable given that the HDCAM SR technology didn’t exist 44 years ago to disprove the goal) or crossed the goal line but were disallowed because the referee didn’t see it, or goals allowed which were off-side or directed in by a handball (i.e. Diego Maradona’s 1986 ‘Hand of God’ goal against England in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final or France striker Thierry Henry’s intentional handball which set up William Gallas’s decisive goal against the Republic of Ireland in a World Cup play-off last year – both goals which the whole world witnessed on TV) is curious at best and maddeningly confounding at worst.

FIFA defends and rationalizes such misjudgments as instances of human behaviour which are at the root of the game. FIFA argues that replacing the authority of the referee with instant replays would strip the game of its beauty and replace it with the banality of technology.

FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke said just before the England-Germany game that video technology is “definitely not on the table.” This is in line with the simplistic and self-serving view of FIFA president Sepp Blatter who in March said, “No matter which technology is applied, at the end of the day a decision will have to be taken by a human being. This being the case, why remove the responsibility from the referee to give it to someone else?”

FIFA’s approach is unsustainable. It’s not 1966 anymore when TVs still had bunny ears nor is it 1986 when CNN was but one of a thousand points of light in Ted Turner’s burgeoning universe. FIFA, who will generate $3.2 billion in revenue this year, and its sponsors should be embarrassed that its beautiful game could be so sullied by its irrational refusal to allow the limited use of video technology in matches.

Rather than planning to stop controversial incidents from being shown on big screens inside stadiums in the future, FIFA would be well advised to enter the 21st century and employ the use of video replays.

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