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Time to Use Technology to Assist the Soccer Referee

Time to Use Technology to Assist the Soccer Referee

Yesterday, Thierry Henry escaped being punished for his infamous handball offence in the 2010 World Cup finals playoff against Ireland.

FIFA claims that they are ‘powerless to punish the 1998 World Cup winning striker because their rules forbade them to do so if the original misdemeanor had not been seen by the match officials.’

For an organization that can demand up to $100million dollars of broadcasting rights from any country for the coming World Cup in South Africa, it is indeed a fiasco to be deemed ‘powerless’ under such circumstances. The fact is that, this kind of controversy will not be happening if only FIFA adopted what so many other professional sports has adopted, that is make use of video replay technology to assist their soccer referees to referee their games. Only the highest rungs in FIFA and God will know what is keeping the most populous game adopting technology to improve the game.

Many traditional critics argue that refereeing in soccer should remain status quo, so that the human error aspects of the game remain as part of the game. At the very top, FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, is a strong opponent to using any technology to assist the soccer referee. In this modern age, traditional people like Blatter ought to be replaced to move the sports forward.

In truth, FIFA can be held responsible for all the refereeing controversies that has ensue over the last century. Things got worse in the last two decades after instant video replay technology allow television to broadcast all poor refereeing decisions immediately to the world to see. How can you blame managers, players and fans from becoming enraged when they see a legitimate penalty been denied by soccer referees? Or a poor offside decision by the soccer referee that led to the eventual game winner? Worse, all these refereeing decisions has led to real instances of life and death, when referees who made crucial mistakes received death threats and are forced retire.

Remember Anders Frisk, the soccer referee from Sweden in 2005 after the contentious match between Barcelona and Chelsea in the Champions League? He was forced to quit after some poor decisions made that caused Chelsea to lose the eventual tie. In his own words, ”it’s not worth carrying on….My safety and the safety of my family goes before anything else. These last few weeks have been the worst of my life.” Soccer lost a very good referee that day. Can we blame him? Or the Jose Morinho who led that publicity assault against his poor performance? FIFA has got to take a significant part of the responsibility as well.

The scary thing is that this type of anti-referee stuff is also taking shape at the youngest age groups. Refereeing resources are already tight, and at the lowest and youngest level of competitive soccer, young players and managers are also learning from what they see on television to openly challenge the soccer referee’s decisions and cause disputes. It has become acceptable to lambaste the referee whether he made the right or wrong call, depending on which side you supported. This does not speak well of the game. What kind of sportsman ship are we teaching our youths? What kind of refereeing standards do we hope to raise if the soccer referees’ job continue to be the loneliest one in the world?

FIFA will always support the soccer referee’s decision, right or wrong. But this kind of backing does not offer practice support for referees at all levels. What referees need is an understanding from all that they are human and that they can make mistakes. If these mistakes can be rectified at the right time in a match through technology and appeals, the footballing crowds will not become overzealous in condemning poor refereeing standards. Technology allows that to be done, but sadly, authority does not. Wake up FIFA, before someone really gets killed because of a poor refereeing decision. It should not come to that stage. Football is a beautiful game after all.