Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Let video replay settle iffy calls
Enhance the integrity of the beautiful game
SEVERAL times each year I feel compelled to lend my voice to the raging debate about video replay in soccer.
To those of you growing tired of my argument, my apologies; but you must at least admit I’ve remained consistent in my belief that the most popular sport in the world, and its biggest matches in particular, will be better for the further use of such technology. I say "further use" because to claim soccer is currently pure without the presence of technology is simply naive. And that’s the first plank of my position on the subject.
Twenty years ago you didn’t have match officials wired up and able to communicate throughout a match as you do now, and if you don’t think their in-game conversations make much difference, think again. Not only can the fourth official relay a manager’s complaints from the sidelines, or the entire gameday team — referee, linesmen and fourth official — make collective adjustments as to how the game is called, but conversations about vital moments such as handballs or fouls in the box are taking place with an expediency that just wasn’t possible a generation ago.
It makes sense to give match officials all the necessary tools to do the best job possible, and like the headsets they now wear, the availability of video replay would only enhance the quality of their performance and, subsequently, the fairness of the game. My second point is even more straightforward: Video replay in soccer already exists. Anyone who has watched a game, whether in the stands or on a couch, already knows this. Important moments such as goals, fouls and offside calls are immediately available to fans and media, and it creates an awkward situation when someone in the nosebleeds or half a world away can make a better judgment on a play than the referee.
That’s putting it mildly. The fallout from this is actually much worse.
When a referee disallows a goal that, when shown on the stadium scoreboard and beamed around the world an instant later, clearly should have stood, it throws the game into disrepute. The trust between the fan and the game — that the game will be played according to the rules, producing a result determined only by the play of the two sides — is broken, and when it breaks, you run the risk of turning a sport into a sideshow, much like when gambling is so prevalent the league is no longer taken seriously (see East Asia).
It’s my opinion that we’re already on the precipice of such a development, and what’s truly unfortunate is that we needn’t be. That’s the third point of my argument. Video replay, plain and simple, is the right thing to do, and implementing it couldn’t be easier.
This is where the naysayers chime in and the skeptics start to scowl. It would take too much time for the officials to stop a match and see a review, they insist. It would disrupt the flow of the game.
Rubbish. Let’s go back to those headsets. It’s not uncommon for a linesman to call over his referee after a debatable play, such as a foul inside the area, and discuss the ramifications for 20 or 30 seconds. In that time, a fifth official, positioned up in a box with access to the same replays the fans are seeing on the scoreboard, could have relayed the correct decision to the referee on the field — he’s wearing a headset, after all — and gotten the game restarted. The technology is already there and being used, albeit by two parties (fans and officials) in two forms (video and audio). Why not connect the dots?
It’s my belief that video replay could actually improve the flow of the game.
Think of the swarm of angry players that falls on a referee after a questionable decision. Such disruptions eat several minutes off the clock in the course of a match and would be done away with if video replay was used responsibly.
So let’s use it. Let’s rid soccer of the ambiguity that puts results into question and threatens the bond between fans and the sport. Let’s make sure our next major tournaments are absent of ghost goals, the next Old Firm derby not marred by a goal gone uncounted.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 31, 2011 C7
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