Frank Lampard scored a goal yesterday that could well have changed the outcome of the 2010 World Cup. A reasonable percentage of the world’s population have now seen the replay of the first half shot in the England vs. Germany game and all but one of them saw the shot clearly enter the net.
The one who didn’t see it is the one who counts unfortunately. The one who didn’t see it has become FIFA’s greatest nightmare.
Bad officiating has become the lead story of this World Cup, overshadowing everything else about the tournament. There has not been a day of competition unmarred by a blown call or two and if FIFA is really serious about being taken seriously in North America then it has a disaster on its' hands that needs an immediate remedy.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter has taken on the role of Moe Howard in all of this mess. It was Blatter who shot down attempts to introduce forms of instant replay for this tournament several years ago saying that the human nature of officiating was part of the game and one that should not be tampered with. Anyone who dares to speak ill of the decision or questions is publicly is given the moral equivalent of a poke in the eye, a slap across the face and sent off. Blatter tolerates no discord in his kingdom.
Every sport has had its moment of human failure such as that witnessed on Sunday. The real difference is that in North America apologies were made, even if half-heartedly, and plans quickly set in motion to use technology to assist officials in getting calls right. Even organizations as slow to embrace change as Major League Baseball and the Big Ten Conference have thrown their arms around video as a useful tool and now would no more consider conducting a championship without help from the replay booth as they would playing a night game with the lights off.
The the number of truly bad calls that have impacted matches and indeed the entire tournament calls into question FIFA’s leadership on two key points, one more alarming than the other:
1) The level of officiating has been such that it calls into question FIFA’s ability to train and select capable officiating.
2) FIFA does not have sufficient control of its officiating to prevent those officials from being influenced by outside sources such as gamblers.
The second of those is the most serious and needs to be addressed by Blatter by the end of today if not sooner. The thought that the second most important sporting tournament in the world is not being decided by the talent of its athletes but rather by officials of dubious character and ability who might have a Euro or two riding on the outcome should leave FIFA officials drowning in their own nightmare-induced night sweats.
Should Germany advance and actually win the World Cup there will be the questions of what role Lampard’s stolen goal played in the proceedings. Would the British have caved as they did had the goal counted? Would the Germans have ever recovered after blowing a 2-0 lead in less than five minutes?
The true tragedy of World Cup 2010 is that its victor is already tainted in some way and is likely to be even more so as there appears to be no end in sight to the Mr. Magoo level of officiating.
Worse yet, nothing that is said here is likely to change the minds of the people who count. Blatter and the rest of the FIFA leadership are certain that it is only a matter of time before Americans fully embrace them and their game on their terms. Blatter honestly sees a world where soccer becomes second only to the NFL before the world returns to the pitch again in Brazil in 2014. He’ll point to the flawless presentation by the 2010 tournament by an American network and increased TV ratings as proof that his vision will win the day.
But Americans, more than any group of fans on the planet, have no stomach for the kind flagrant failures they have seen in officiating in the last two weeks. Until Blatter and his minions fix this mess, soccer in America is going to remain a game played by seven-year-olds until they figure out what sport they are really interested in playing.