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Time to Use Technology to Assist the Soccer Referee
Yesterday, Thierry Henry escaped punishment for his infamous handball offense in the 2010 World Cup finals against Ireland.
FIFA claims they are ‘powerless to punish the 1998 World Cup-winning striker because their rules prohibited them from doing so unless the original offense was seen by the match officials.’
For an organization that can demand up to $100 million in broadcasting rights from each country for the upcoming World Cup in South Africa, it is indeed a fiasco to be considered ‘powerless’ under such circumstances. The fact is, this kind of controversy won’t happen if only FIFA would adopt what many other professional sports have adopted, which is to use video replay technology to help their soccer referees judge their games. Only the highest echelons in FIFA and God will know what is keeping the most popular game from adopting technology to improve the game.
Many traditional critics argue that refereeing in football should remain the status quo, so that the human error aspects of the game remain as part of the game. At the helm, FIFA president Sepp Blatter is a staunch opponent of using any technology to assist soccer referees. In this modern era, traditional people like Blatter must be replaced to move the sport forward.
Indeed, FIFA can be held responsible for all the refereeing controversies that have occurred over the past century. Things got worse in the last two decades as instant video replay technology enabled television to instantly broadcast all the poor refereeing decisions for the world to see. How can you blame managers, players and fans for getting angry when they see a legitimate penalty denied by football referees? Or a poor offside decision by the soccer referee that led to the eventual game-winner? Worse, all these referee decisions have led to real-life cases of life and death, where referees who have made crucial mistakes have received death threats and been forced to withdraw.
Do you remember Anders Frisk, the Swedish football referee in 2005 after the controversial match between Barcelona and Chelsea in the Champions League? He was forced to leave after some poor decisions made which caused Chelsea to lose the final game. In his words, “it’s not worth it to continue… My safety and that of my family comes before anything else.” These last few weeks have been the worst of my life.” Football lost a very good referee that day. Can we blame him? Or Jose Mourinho who led that publicity blitz against his poor performance? FIFA must also take an important part of the responsibility.
The scary thing is that this kind of thing against referees is taking shape even in the younger age groups. Refereeing resources are already tight, and at the lowest and newest level of competitive football, young players and managers are also learning from what they see on television to openly challenge the decisions of football referees and cause disputes. . It has become acceptable to cuss at the referee whether he made the right call or the wrong one, depending on which side you sided with. This does not speak well for the game. What kind of sports boat are we teaching our youth? What kind of refereeing standards do we hope to raise if football refereeing continues to be the loneliest job in the world?
FIFA will always support the decision of the football referee, right or wrong. But this kind of support does not provide practical support for judges at all levels. What judges need is for everyone to understand that they are human and that they can make mistakes. If these mistakes can be rectified in a timely manner in a match through technology and appeals, football crowds will not become zealous in condemning poor refereeing standards. Technology allows this to be done, but alas, authority does not. Wake up FIFA, before someone really gets killed because of a poor refereeing decision. It should not come to that stage. After all, football is a beautiful game.
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