[MY VIEW] By refusing to embrace the future, Sepp Blatter is ignoring his own past. Before he replaced Joao Havelange as FIFA President after the 1998 World Cup, Blatter initiated discussions of rule changes as general secretary, and ran right into the same kind of obstinance he is himself now professing.
Blatter wanted stricter enforcement and greater punishment for serious fouls, more accurate evaluations of offside situations, and more or less a cleaner, fairer game.
At every turn, the referees told him no, and Havelange rigidly backed the officials, even as video evidence piled up that offside decisions were regularly and routinely being blown.
Blatter would express his frustrations occasionally, muttering about how members of the referees’ committee wouldn’t even discuss changes, and then say no. They would just say no, and that was that.
Now, it is Blatter who is saying no to methods that would enable referees to better adjudicate a fast-moving, complex, impassioned, and intensely scrutinized series of events and incidents, i.e., a top-level soccer game.
He terminated experiments with goal-line technology to determine whether a ball has crossed the goal line, and though tests of goal-line officials will continue they are not being used in this World Cup.
Very sad, since a goal-line official would certainly have clarified the offside Carlos Tevez goal against Mexico that was allowed to stand and spotted Frank Lampard’s shot coming down two feet over the goal line for an apparent English equalizer against Germany.
Had a goal-line official been in place during the notorious France-Ireland playoff match last November, France’s goal set up by Thierry Henry’s handball would most likely not have been allowed.
I refer to goal-line officials instead of goal-line technology not out of preference for one or the other. I believe both should be used: officials to better observe action in and around the goalmouth, and cameras to monitor the goal line.
In my perfect world, there would be two referees, with equal authority, as used to be the case in basketball, along with goal-line officials and perhaps a video referee to watch the game and alert the match officials when they may have missed something, like a shot crossing the goal line, or a “goal” scored by a player at least a yard offside.
You would think Blatter, a former marketing mogul painstakingly conscious of the sport’s image, would do everything possible to keep that image clean and sparkly and enticing. Instead, he steadfastly maintains that keeping soccer in the dark, literally and technologically, generates controversy and publicity.
Well, I’ve been hearing a lot more disdain and ridicule the past few years, not just in recent days. ESPN’s saturation coverage has cranked up the backlash to a crescendo.
If resistance from the referees, who don’t want their authority usurped, is blocking changes, the refs are in the wrong. Whether they want help or not, they need it, and it’s up to Blatter to implement whatever improvements are determined to be most feasible.
Goal-line officials will be back for the Europa League but as per Blatter there’s nothing else in the works.
Now the NBA and major colleges use three referees rather than two to monitor a much smaller playing area.
Hockey, for decades a one-referee sport, now uses two in addition to a pair of linesmen and video officials to review goal-line incidents. Even baseball, by far the American sport steeped deepest in tradition, allows umpires to review video in ambiguous home-run situations.
The NFL has been using video replay in certain situations since the mid-1980s and refined it several times, but it’s hard to find someone in favor of eliminating it.
Soccer doesn’t need to take the lead of any league, American or otherwise, but it does need an upgrade. It invites ridicule with its stubborn insistence that the status quo is all well and good.
I respect tradition and do sympathize somewhat with those who fear more officials and cameras and TV monitors will slow down and impair the game. But the modern system of game officiating is flawed.
There are not enough eyes on the field to observe the action, and a referee and referee’s assistants can’t possibly be in the right position to see shots that come down on or near the goal line.
The officials are already wired for sound. Why can’t there be more of them, and why can’t they be wired for video as well?