Blatter’s U-turn on refereeing technology may not be what it seems

By John Leicester, AP
Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Is Blatter’s U-turn for real?

JOHANNESBURG — FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s apparent U-turn on the possible introduction of technology to help referees should be taken with a pinch of salt. Maybe he really is having a genuine change of heart, in which case, hooray. Or, perhaps more likely, his sudden reversal is just for show.

The reason for the skepticism is that Blatter and FIFA have long been on the frontline of resistance to technological aids that could help referees make fewer blunders, including at this World Cup.

Blatter is acting only after his organization and the sport it governs have been made to look silly by bad officiating in South Africa.

“It would be a nonsense to not reopen the file of technology,” he said Tuesday.

Just don’t forget that this is the same person who in 2008 said: “Let’s leave football with errors.”

To be absolutely clear: Blatter is talking only about the possibility of using technology that can tell when the ball crosses the goal line.

He is not advocating the use of video to spot whether players are offside, as Carlos Tevez was when he scored Sunday for Argentina against Mexico. Nor would there be replays to catch Thierry Henry-esque handballs or other fouls. None of that is in the cards.

“The only principle we are going to bring back now for discussion is the goal-line technology,” Blatter says.

Nor does agreeing to revive shelved discussions about technology actually commit FIFA to adopting it. It is possible that Blatter is only paying lip service to the issue now to mollify critics after referees made a couple of howlers at the World Cup, including awarding Tevez’s illegitimate goal and robbing England of a legitimate goal against Germany. In that case, Frank Lampard’s shot clearly crossed the German line and should have been awarded but the referee from Uruguay and his assistants did not see it.

Previously, FIFA’s rule-making body has looked at two different goal-line systems before rejecting them.

One was Hawk-Eye, used for contested line calls in tennis. Its inventor Paul Hawkins says a Hawk-Eye goal-line system has been tested, worked consistently, and has been ready for two years but hit a wall with FIFA.

Blatter still has doubts about Hawk-Eye, saying Tuesday that it “has not given the 100 percent accuracy.”

Hawkins says the FIFA boss hasn’t taken the time to fully understand it.

“It is very difficult to have a direct conversation with Mr. Blatter,” Hawkins said in a telephone interview.

When presenting the concept to FIFA’s rule-making body, “you walk in, you have 6 or 7 minutes and then you are ushered out. There’s no debate,” he added. “There is no question that there is a great deal of misunderstanding which I think has influenced their poor decision-making up to now.”

Of Blatter’s apparent U-turn, he added: “We are not cracking open any champagne … we have had our hopes dashed too many times in the past.”

The other possible goal-line system involves balls with embedded microchips that send the referee’s earpiece a beep or message when they cross the line.

Blatter has his doubts about those, too. “It was complicated,” he says.

Beyond technical concerns, Blatter has voiced larger more philosophical reasons for rejecting technology.

He has suggested that opening the door even a little to goal-line systems could lead to a flood of other technological aids. Examples could include technology to determine whether a ball crossed the touchline, requiring that play be stopped for a throw-in, or possibly chips in players shirts to tell when they stray offside or even allowing coaches to challenge referees’ decisions by demanding that a video umpire be consulted.

“Every decision in every area of the pitch would soon be questioned,” Blatter said in March. “It would also not make sense to stop play every two minutes to review a decision, as this would go against the natural dynamism of the game.”

Other reasons Blatter has cited not to adopt technology are cost, the fact that it could not be introduced everywhere that soccer is played and because of what he calls “the human aspect,” the idea that mistakes are inherent to soccer, that fans love to debate them and that machines could not eradicate them completely.

So now, when FIFA is in the hot seat for poor refereeing at the World Cup, Blatter says goal-line technology needs to be re-examined.

But in the end, the conclusion may well be the same.

John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)

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