FIFA Must Adopt In-Game and Post-Game Video Review

July 13, 2011

In the wake of Sunday’s U.S.-Brazil Women’s World Cup game, the world was given another example of why FIFA must adopt video replays to correct both mistakes being made within the game and to issue suspensions after the match to those who attempt to deceive the official during the game.

In regards to in-game replays, it is hard to imagine that we, or FIFA for that matter, need more examples of matches being swayed by terrible decisions which are obvious mistakes when reviewed in replay. Who can forget last spring when Ireland was denied their rightful place in the World Cup when cheated out of it by a Thierry Henry handball? England’s fans won’t soon forget Frank Lampard’s non-goal against Germany last summer and American fans had plenty to gripe about as well seeing not 1, but 2 legitimate goals called back in the World Cup in their group-stage games against Slovenia and Algeria.

In the case of the Americans, they avoided the costly decisions of the officials and still advanced to the knockout stage. But what if they hadn’t been forced to go all-out for 93 minutes in that final group stage game? It makes sense they would have been more fresh for the decisive, and very close, knockout game against Ghana.

Watching the World Cup final, many fans, including myself, didn’t care who won the game at kickoff. But watching the Netherland’s barbaric tactics and blatant diving, I, along with many others, began to cheer for Spain. And what about Nigel DeJong? It was obvious from replays that he had karate kicked Xabi Alonso in the chest, but was not sent off because it was not seen by the 3 in-game officials. Can you imagine the outcry from Spanish fans if the Netherlands, with all their dirty play and Hollywood stunt diving had gone on to win that game? What if Nigel DeJong had ended up scoring the winning goal? Fifa President Sepp Blatter would have had Spaniards rioting outside his house.

So far in this summer’s Women’s World Cup, there have been several shocking decisions as well. In the group game between Equitorial Guinea and Australia, a Guinean player caught, yes caught, the ball inside her own six yard box. She even took several steps while holding the ball before dropping it, and play continued uninterrupted. The Guinean defender should have been sent off and the Australians awarded a penalty. However, the referee and linesman had not, amazingly, seen the infraction, and so it went unpunished. Minutes later, Equitorial Guinea equalized the match at 1-1. Thankfully, Australia went on to win the game, but again, try to imagine how blatantly unfair it would have been had they not. It would have cost them a place in the quarterfinals.

Norway certainly had a basis for complaint after their defender was blantantly pushed by Marta in the back which led to Brazil’s opening goal. Prior to the goal, the Norwegians had been dominating possession. Although the game ended up 3-1 for Brazil, anyone who knows the game knows that goals change games. Teams that give up a soft goal, or one they believe they were cheated out of, suffer a psychological setback that is extremely difficult to overcome.

Sunday’s U.S.-Brazil game offered numerous times when instant replay would have been helpful. First of course, was Brazil’s penalty kick. On further review, it was obvious Marta went down very easy and only because she threw herself off-balance trying to attempt a nearly impossible volley. The subsequent encroachment call on the 1st penalty that was saved by American goalkeeper Hope Solo was dubious, at best, and befuddled the announcers. Brazil’s final goal came from a cross from a Brazilian player who appeared to be offsides. Brazilian fans also had cause for complaint as well as American midfielder Carli Lloyd, who was already on a caution, probably should have been sent off when she appeared to deliberately handle the ball near the midstripe.

Sepp Blatter likes to claim that this controversy is good for the game. It is not. It soils the sport and makes people sick. What types of lessons are we supposed to be teaching our children who grow up watching these debacles? To try their best to deceive the official to win? To try to cheat in a way that avoids detection? Mr. Blatter also is fond of saying that replay would slow the game down. That claim is nonsense. Maybe in the era of Maradona’s “hand of God”, replays would have taken too long. But today, television replays appear with 2-3 seconds of a significant play. An extra official sitting in a booth communicating with the center official through their earpiece could have the problem correct within 10-15 seconds. That is less time than it takes to get play restarted for a goal kick, corner kick, throw-in, foul, or substitution. And isn’t that small delay worth getting it right?

The 2nd policy that should be enacted is post-game video reviews. The amount of “gamesmanship” that has infiltrated our sport is truly ruining the beautiful game. Again, in last year’s World Cup final, the Netherlands tried to cheat their way to the championship through brutal tackling and blatant diving. Sunday, Brazil resorted to diving to get advantageous calls and feigning injuries to run down the clock. If players knew that games would be reviewed after the fact and acts of blatant cheating would be retroactively punished with additional cautions and/or suspensions, the amount of these types of incidents would be drastically reduced.

It is shocking that referees around the world have not come out in support of video replay. None of them enter the profession with the intent to screw fans and teams out of legitimate wins. But that is exactly what happens. The fact of the matter is there are no 3 human beings on this planet that can correctly determine what is happening on 8000 square yard pitch among 22 players in such a fast-paced game. The likelihood of making correct decisions gets even smaller when the players are actively trying to deceive the officials. And you have to imagine that officials are tired of having to witness all the rolling around on the pitch only to watch a player bounce up and magically sprint on an ankle which was supposedly injured in a tackle just moments earlier.

Two years ago in the Champions League semi-final, center official Tom Overbo received death threats after waving away what appeared to be 4 separate legitimate penalty appeals. No one wants to see these types of incidents. Video replay would help officials get it right. This last year, Barcelona’s diving in the Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid was an embarrassment to the sport.

Fans of all nations and all clubs have gotten the short end of the stick regarding poor officiating at some point. The goal of all players, teams, fans and officials should be to have fairly contested matches. In-game and post-match video replay would help make that happen.

John D. Halloran

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