3.2 billion people.
According to a report released by FIFA on July 11, 2011, 3.2 billion people around the world tuned in and saw at least one minute of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
This represents 46.4 percent of the entire planet’s human population. Although in America football does not have a staggering popularity, it is, globally, the undisputed favorite sport.
The modern game itself dates back to the mid-1800s. The World Cup, football’s biggest stage, was first held in 1930. It should come as no surprise that people are hesitant to change the rules of a game with so much history.
In particular, the addition and integration of video-replay technology to the game has lately been an incredibly pressing issue. The most recent high-profile incident in which this addition could have been used took place just over two years ago in Bloemfontein, South Africa.
The score is 2-1. England is trailing in the 38th minute of the game. Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard unleashes a thunderous strike just outside of the penalty area. The ball loops over Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, hits the bottom of the cross bar, crosses the goal line and then spins out into the hands of the goalie.
All eyes turn to the assistant referee on the touchline, who keeps his flag down. By doing so the assistant referee has stated that the ball never crossed the line, and therefore a goal cannot be allowed.
Play continues. England, whose momentum is killed, ends up losing the match by a score of 4-1 and is therefore eliminated from the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
The immediate aftermath to this game can only be describe as irate. John Brewin, the editor of ESPN Soccernet wrote, “Germany's latest World Cup victory over England will be remembered not for any of the brilliant goals, but for the one that didn't count.”
Something like this happening in a World Cup match between two of the biggest footballing powers in the world was a great opportunity to get out the message about the lack of video-replay technology.
After the match, Germany coach Joachim Loew stated, “What I saw on television, this ball was behind the line. It must have been given as goal.” But alas, it was not given as a goal.
The English players were distraught. Rightfully so. Had the equalizing goal counted, they could have played in a completely different style and perhaps won the game.
There are two schools of thought on the subject of video technology being integrated into the sport of football. Some believe it is a necessary addition to the game in order to ensure complete fairness. Then there are others who believe that video replay technology will result in unnecessary stoppages, unfair advantages and a chaotic burden on the referees who are officiating the game.
Let us first start with the argument against video replay technology. During the ESPN Soccernet Podcast recorded on March 12, 2012, journalist Dominic Raynor states, “People seem to think that bringing in goal line technology is, kind of, the Holy Grail for [football] and suddenly everything is going to be fine; it’s not.” I completely agree with this viewpoint.
One of the greatest things about football is the continuity of the play. There are no timeouts, a limited number of substitutions and only two instances when the clock is stopped (halftime and full-time). Unless you are watching an elimination game of a tournament, there will be no extra time, no matter the circumstance.
There is no debating that football is the most scheduling-friendly sport on earth, because 99 percent of the time the entire match will run under two hours.
Another problem with video-replay technology is the limitations. Who’s to say at which point the video replay is not eligible for use?
Here’s an example. Assume that you introduce video replay technology for goal-specific circumstances. In other words, the only time a video replay can be used is to see whether or not a ball has crossed the end line, which would result in a goal. First off, who would decide whether or not the play is close enough to warrant a video review?
The referees on the field already have their hands full with the ongoing match. They can’t just stop play to confer about a matter such as this.
Furthermore, if they do go to the replay and it is determined that a goal was not scored, what is the correct restart of the game? Play would have been interrupted in one team's defensive third of the field. How can the referee fairly restart the match without providing an unfair advantage to either of the teams?
Now let’s assume that goal-line technology is implemented, but the following scenario occurs: A player received a pass while in an offside position, but the referee misses the call.
That player, who should have been flagged for being in an offside position, continues his run and ends up winning a corner kick for his team. His team scores from the ensuing corner kick. One team now has been given a goal, even though the buildup play to the goal was prohibited by the rules.
This situation is not uncommon in the sport of football. So why can’t video-replay technology be used in this instance? If the technology can be used to determine goals, it should, in theory, be integrated into all aspects of the game. But the problem is there is no way for this integration to occur in a fair way.
If video review were to be allowed in offside calls, what happens when the player is not in an offside position, but the referee does not see this until the review? The stoppage for the review has now killed the entire advantage that that player had in the initial flow of the game.
Human errors happen; they are a basic part of life. Why do we feel that referees are exempt from this reality? Sports fans are so detached that they believe every ref should get every call right. That’s just not realistic. The human element of football officials is what allows the game to be so great.
Of course, referees should be highly accurate with their decisions, but 100 percent is too unrealistic.
Furthermore, aren’t referees hired and used because the governing league has determined that they are able to make these kinds of decisions? It wouldn’t be right to bring in video technology to do the job that the four men on the field are assigned to do.
Those that feel goal-line technology should be implemented are adamant about their belief. They certainly have a case. When referees continue to make mistakes, such as the one in the 2010 World Cup, the fire is again fueled.
There is also the successful integration of similar technology into the sports of American football, basketball and even baseball.
In the National Football League, they have the challenge system. They also have the booth review in certain circumstances. The National Basketball Association can go to replays to decide possession and degree of fouls.
The key difference between these sports and football is the amount of stoppage already incorporated into the game. The NFL has timeouts, downs, plays and quarters. The NBA is a fast-paced game that includes far more possession switches and scoring opportunities than football does.
Regardless of what people say, there is currently no technology available that to seamlessly integrate into the sport of football that would allow fair play to continue as well as helping keep the officials' decisions accurate.
It’s an impossible thing to ask. Especially when you consider that once replay technology is implemented for goalscoring instances, the floodgates are now opened and it is only a matter of time before the sport of football is forever changed for the worse.
In an ideal world, video-replay technology would not be needed, because the referees would be flawless in their decision-making. Unfortunately, this just isn’t so.
But that doesn’t mean that referees should be bailed out by technology. The game deserves the finest referees available, and keeping replay technology out of the game ensures that this standard will be kept.
American football had the ability to seamlessly integrate the challenge system without unfairly affecting the momentum of the game. The way that basketball is played makes replay technology a sensible addition to ensure fairness in the competition.
But football just doesn’t present an opportunity like that.
Most football fans do not share my opinion. In fact, the overwhelming majority has been pushing for technology such as this to be implemented in the game since before the most recent World Cup.
Why should my opinion carry any weight? I played football for a lot of my life. Once my playing career stopped I became an addict. My weekend’s most important activities are all football-related.
Finally, just this year, I became a United States Soccer Federation-certified Grade 8 referee. I know this sport. I know it from a player’s perspective and I know it from an official’s perspective. The technology of instant replay just does not fit in this sport.
In my opinion, FIFA will implement replay technology for goalscoring situations prior to the next World Cup in 2014. The president of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, came out in support of replay technology in March of 2012. When speaking on the subject, Blatter recalled the England situation from the previous World Cup: “I wouldn't be again in a World Cup and witness another situation. I would die.”
These strong words suggest that the technology will certainly be present when Brazil hosts the 2014 World Cup. My only hope is that the technology stays limited to the goalscoring situations.
In order for the integrity of the game to remain intact, it is my opinion that it must be limited to goalscoring situations.
Football is the most beautiful and incredible sport in the world. Its elegance is found in its simplicity. With video technology come stoppages, unfair advantages and controversies that have never been prevalent in the sport before.
It is no small decision to change a game that has been played in a particular way for well over a century. I just hope that the integrity and beauty of the game can whether this storm.
Because if they cannot, the world will be losing one of the greatest things ever created.