In wake of blown calls, pressure mounts on FIFA to give referees some high-tech help

By Graham Dunbar, AP
Monday, June 28, 2010

Bad-call blues: FIFA urged to allow video replay

JOHANNESBURG — Tennis does it. Baseball does it. Even American football and hockey do it. So why not soccer, too?

After two blown calls at vital moments of vital games in the World Cup, the guardians of international soccer are being pressed harder than ever to explain their resistance to video replay and their embrace of human error.

The clamor for change spread around the world Monday, after many millions of TV viewers over the weekend saw England deprived of a clearly valid goal in its loss to Germany and victorious Argentina awarded a goal against Mexico that was just as clearly offsides.

Even British Prime Minister David Cameron weighed in, at the close of a tumultuous global summit in Toronto, suggesting that technology to improve officiating is “something that football could now have a look at.”

It’s a debate that has roiled virtually every major sport in recent years — and the inexorable trend has been to adopt video replay and other high-tech systems to help with some of the toughest calls in the most high-profile situations.

The Grand Slam tennis tournaments use Hawk-eye, a sophisticated high-speed camera system, for line calls.

The National Football League lets coaches request a limited number of video replay reviews.

The National Hockey League uses replay to assess disputed goals, a policy that would have spared FIFA, soccer’s ruling body, from the current controversy.

The NBA uses replays in a few crucial situations, notably to determine whether a last-second shot beat the buzzer.

Even Major League Baseball, after years of resistance, has allowed limited use of replays to judge the validity of borderline home runs. But, in company with FIFA, MLB remains loyal to the concept of fallible officiating, and says it doesn’t want any technology that would overrule bad calls behind the plate or on the bases.

Even the recent blown call at first base by umpire Jim Joyce — costing Detroit’s Armando Galarraga a perfect game — didn’t spark any urgent reappraisal by MLB.

Amid the World Cup tumult, FIFA has hunkered down.

“We obviously will not open any debate. This is obviously not the place for this,” its spokesman, Nicolas Maingot, told a hostile and unusually large group of journalists at the daily tournament briefing Monday.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who was in the stands during both controversial calls Sunday, offered no public comment. But he has stood firm in recent years in rejecting video technology that would enable match officials to see the same replays that are shown within seconds on TV.

“Let’s leave football with errors,” Blatter said in 2008 when experiments with goal-line technology and video replay were halted by FIFA’s rules panel, the International Football Association Board.

Some soccer VIPs supported Blatter’s stance even in the wake of the bad calls.

“I would leave it the way it is,” said Brazil’s coach, Dunga. “If there is no controversy in football, you wouldn’t be there and I wouldn’t be here.”

However, veteran coach Guus Hiddink, who led the Netherlands and South Korea to World Cup semifinals in 1998 and 2002, said Blatter should resign unless he swiftly OKs video replay. And FIFPro, which represents pro players worldwide, demanded that referees get access to high-tech assistance.

“The entire football world once again reacted with disbelief to FIFA’s stubborn insistence that technology does not belong in football,” FIFPro said. “The credibility of the sport is at stake.”

Even one of the German players who prevailed over England, striker Miroslav Klose, said change should come.

“I am not sure about video replays, but if you have a chip in the ball that sends a signal to the referee’s ear or beeps, then why not?” he said. “If you can have it in other sports, why not in football?”

Klose was referring to technology that would imbed a chip in the ball and allow for precise, instant determinations of whether it fully crossed the goal line.

Paul Hawkins, the inventor of the Hawk-eye system used in tennis, says a version of his technology — using cameras positioned around the stadium — also could help soccer referees almost instantaneously with goal-line calls, though FIFA has rejected it.

“Referees want goal-line technology. It would be there to help them, not to replace them,” Hawkins told the British news agency Press Association.

Whether the referees at the World Cup agree with him remains unclear. FIFA has not made any of them available to discuss it.

At a media session last week, referees who made the first hotly disputed calls at the tournament did not attend. Reporters were unable to ask Koman Coulibaly of Mali why he waved off a late United States goal against Slovenia, or quiz Frenchman Stephane Lannoy why he sent off Brazil’s Kaka against Ivory Coast.

Even the United States’ first-round victory against Algeria in the final minutes of injury time included a controversial call, when an early U.S. goal was ruled offside.

On Sunday, just before the England-Germany game, FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke said changes to the officiating regimen were possible — though in the form of more manpower, not technology.

“It doesn’t mean the use of video — that is definitely not on the table today — but one thing we are discussing is two additional assistants to support referees to make decision-making easier and to have more eyes helping him,” Valcke said.

FIFA had hoped the issue was put to rest — at least for this year — when its rules panel declined in March to commission any new technology experiments. Blatter said video technology would be too expensive to impose worldwide on FIFA’s 208 members, many of them strapped for funds, and would break up the flow of games.

“No matter which technology is applied, at the end of the day a decision will have to be taken by a human being,” Blatter said. “Other sports regularly change the laws of the game to react to the new technology. We don’t do it and this makes also the fascination and the popularity of football.”

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