I would have liked my opening blog to have been about something positive in this beautiful game of ours but I find myself choosing a topic which threatens the future of this sport . FIFA. If you haven’t heard or seen reference to dubious refereeing decisions over the last 2-3 weeks then I ask you , “Isn’t it a little dark and gloomy under that rock you’re living under ! “
This subject goes back many years to the point at which TV cameras went from one camera placed above the half way line panning the whole length of the pitch to the present where you have as many as 20 camera angles covered . Now , we have slow motion reviews from every conceivable spot on the field and the TV coverage has the option to review the decision as many times as it takes to show the what the correct decision should be.
During that same period , how far have referees progressed in their approach to the games ? To be fair , they have made changes . There are now 4 officials . One referee , two linesman , and a “fourth official” whose function seems to be puzzling for the average Joe Fan other than to hold up a nice board with flashing lights on it every 45 minutes and to check shin pads . He also plays boxing referee to keep opposing managers in their own technical area but that’s about it. Referees also have an earpiece and a microphone to communicate with each other to establish uniformity.
Recently , some strides have been made to add 2 more officials to the game . One official to stand behind each goal and “assist the referee with any decisions about the laws of the game “ . However , this was a trial program used only during the 2009-10 Europa League group games and there are no plans to use it in the future.
So how do these changes stack up to the present day status of the global game ? Soccer ( or football if you don’t live where I live ) has made tremendous strides in popularity and commercial over the last 10 years .
When that “little Argentinian dwarf “ did the famous “Hand of God” play at the 1986 World Cup to take Argentina past England to the semi finals , the only effect was on the hearts and minds of both sets of players , coaches and fans .
Contrast that with the complete national uproar in Ireland over Thierry Henry’s blatant handball in the World Cup play-off game against France two weeks ago .
According to a trusted source , the cost to the Irish economy of NOT making the World Cup next year was “in the millions of Euros”. God forbid if that was to happen in a World Cup Final .
Now to a non-fan of the sport , the initial reaction is so what ? It’s only a sport . Exactly right , but that is the whole point . Sport these days is BIG business and is more than just a past-time .
Here are some of the current contracts are in place globally for soccer leagues and World Cups :
ABC/Univision/ESPN – $425 million 2007-2014 FIFA World Cups
BBC/Sky Sports – $2.6 billion 2010-2013 Premier League ( England)
MP/Silva International – E210 million 2010-2012 Seria A League (Italy)
Combined Broadcasters – $5.4 billion 2010 World Cup
This list forms a very small portion of the money streaming into the sport today. So as we can see , the importance of the sport as a global revenue entity is firmly established.
I think we can thus agree that preserving the future of the game is crucial to maintaining these revenue streams and so anything that undermines the sport’s success as an entertainment source should be dealt with quickly. Herein lies the crux of the issue . FIFA , the world governing body of the sport , flatly refuses to introduce any measure into the sport which “undermines the flow and pace of the game and changes the traditional values that the game has been built on for almost 150 years. Their mission statement refers to their organization being” the guardians of this cherished game “ and being charged with the task of “safeguarding the Laws of the Game” . They also see themselves as a “ contributor towards building a better future for the world by using the power and popularity of football “ and “ as a major cultural and social enabler throughout the world “ Lofty goals indeed from a “sporting organization” . However , do not underestimate FIFA’s power across the globe . In 2006 , all Greek teams were suspended from international competition because of government intervention in football matters concerning their National Association . The ban was lifted after the government backed down.
As we can see , they are powerful and uncompromising , and so change comes very slowly .
FIFA has a rules committee called the IFAB “International Football Association Board” which consists of 8 members , 4 of which come from the British Associations in deference to their historic significance within the sport . (There is a joke in here somewhere about an Englishman , an Irishman , a Scotsman , and a Welshman all sitting around a table but I just can’t remember it ! ) . The IFAB meets once a year to decide rule changes and consistently produces nothing of any value other than to consume tea and crumpet in large amounts . Trying to force these people to change is like pulling teeth .
Here is the irony of it all . Other sports around the globe have successfully added changes to their rules which have benefited the sport and which do not affect the final viewing product . The most successful of these is the NFL who consistently change their rules every year to promote safety , excitement and to eliminate referee mistakes . The success of the NFL has been unprecedented over the past 10-15 years so they must be doing something right.
Soccer (football) has got to get it’s house in order and bring in video replay before the next World Cup in South Africa or face the possibility of being the laughing stock of the global sports community. it can be introduced to only function in decisions only where the ball is in the penalty area . Allow the 4th official to have a monitor situated away from the eye of the crowd (as in the NFL) and he makes the decision in conjunction with the referee . The decision must be arrived at in a maximum of 60 seconds and each team gets one review per half which is decided by the referees and not the coaches. They should start this immediately and run the system in all the friendly internationals played between now and the start of the World Cup.
Radical , I know , but FIFA has sat on its hands for too long on this and they are now in a corner where they must do something or risk making a mockery out of the greatest sport on the planet.