July 8, 2010

A good goal for FIFA: Use technology, get it right

So now the final stage is set: Spain vs. The Netherlands in what should be a glorious World Cup final, a fitting culmination to the 31-day tournament.

If only . . .

If only the players and the hundreds of millions of fans around the globe who will tune in to watch Sunday’s finale could count on the officials to call a competent game, a 50-50 proposition in a tournament marked by missed goals and handballs, phantom fouls and routinely botched offsides calls.

Of course, the officials are human and fallible. The real fault lies with FIFA, the sport’s governing body, and its president, Sepp Blatter, whose prehistoric mentality toward instant replay has helped create a digital-age mess. Fans worldwide watch the games with the benefit of modern technology – live streaming, slo-mo replays, a terrific on-screen offsides guide – and yet FIFA has refused to make such tools available to the referees, thus creating a huge gap between its technology-savvy fans and the game. The tournament’s -- and the sport’s -- credibility is suffering the consequences.

Technology is a wonderful thing. Video replay has been around since 1963 (yes, 1963).  Instant replay has been widely used in the NFL for the past 25 years. And the NBA, MLB and the NHL have all integrated replay in one form or another. Even a fairly simple technological advance – a microchip in the ball that could indicate when it crosses the goal line, an advance that would have signaled Frank Lampard’s infamous goal should have counted in the England-Germany game – has been spurned in favor of old-fashioned human error.

FIFA and Blatter have no excuse not to leverage all that replay has to offer for the World Cup. This is not some mom-and-pop operation. The tournament is a billion-dollar venture, and by failing to use replay to ensure the fairness and accuracy of officiating, FIFA undermines the very sport it’s charged to promote and grow.

An apology from Blatter did little to placate English fans irate over the Lampard goal blunder, nor did it ease the injustice felt by Mexico fans when an Argentina goal scored on an egregious missed offsides was allowed to stand. Americans trying to embrace the game are still waiting for an explanation of the supposed foul that wiped out a game-winning goal by Maurice Edu in the U.S. game against Slovenia.

FIFA runs the risk of alienating fans who are not charmed by its aversion to technology, not in an era when they can watch games on their cell phones and engage electronically with fans around the world. FIFA takes those fans for granted, a truly unwise move as technology also offers people more and more entertainment options every day.

In the latest Nielsen Co. worldwide poll, 65 percent of respondents said they were in favor of instant replay. More impressively, only 1 in 10 said the ban on instant replay should remain.

Blatter has indicated he is ready to reconsider the goal-line technology issue. No video replay mind you, just renewed “consideration” for the microchip technology or goal-line sensors.

Of course, that will be for the 2014 World Cup. Spain and The Netherlands deserve better on Sunday. As do the fans.

Tipping point for replay? FIFA joins list of sports seeking help {USA Today}
Study shows fans demand instant replay for World Cup games {Nielsen wire}
The top five World Cup officiating gaffes {National Post}

1 comment:

  1. Couldn't agree more. I think that's a major stumbling block to US interest - we're just not very tolerant of missed/blown calls anymore ... we expect the refs/league to get it right.