To every England fan’s dismay, Frank Lampard’s obvious goal in the round-of-16 against Germany in the 2010 World Cup was ruled a non-score by the center referee. Even more insulting and frustrating, there was no way to argue for its inclusion on the score sheet because Earth’s most popular sport still does not allow rulings based on instant replay in its Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) matches. Look no further than the replay on the giant video screen above the German goal for clear evidence that the ball had fully crossed the goal line by a good yard. With the ref’s ruling, the collective breath was sucked out of the players and their supporters, who watched in disbelief as Germany went on to dominate its European foe and advance to the quarterfinals.
As the central governing body for global soccer, FIFA selects the hosting countries and controls the major international soccer tournaments, such as the European Football Championships and the World Cup. In December 2010, FIFA awarded a surprise victor, Qatar, the right to host the 2022 World Cup, making it the smallest country (population around two million) ever to receive that honor. Such recognition, as encouraging as it is puzzling, also reveals a division between two ways of thinking that may signal the possible global propagation of a crucial piece of technology throughout the sport.
Qatar beat out the United States, South Korea, Japan and Australia in final voting to win the right to host the 22nd FIFA World Cup. The country promised to “devote $50 bn to new infrastructure (including an entirely new metro system), plus twelve new stadiums around the capital of Doha” to compensate for the lack of other cities to support the mass influx of people during the tournament. Rewarding a country that boasts such dedication to developing new technology and has the financial means to do so seemed to demonstrate FIFA’s openness to new technologies. [Sport Techie recently detailed the futuristic advancements planned for the 2022 World Cup stadiums].
However, reports began to surface that Qatar had essentially bribed FIFA officials to host the Cup. Turns out, FIFA’s noble enterprise was only superficial. Its two-faced posture is further exemplified by its decision to categorically fail all the participants in its instant replay trials held in February. The trials imposed impossible-to-meet standards (i.e., 100 percent accuracy and a one-second relay time back to match officials) and difficult conditions (the artificial turf, which will not be used at the Cup, proved an obstacle for companies wishing to bury their cables underground). Afterward, FIFA President Sepp Blatter did not acknowledge the troubles with the testing parameters but, in a textbook Catch 22, expressed a desire to implement instant replay as long as the technology is proven. Could it be that the candidates were set up to fail?
It remains to be seen whether FIFA will make good on its apparent desire to include instant replay in the 2014 Cup, or if the Federation’s public posturing is rooted in a genuine desire to improve the image of a sport laden in controversy. Scaling back the requirements for companies to pass the testing phase would be one way of showing its sincerity. In any case, a loss of focus and trust in FIFA could prevail at the next Cup if some forms of advanced technology are accepted and others rejected. Trumpeting aesthetic new stadiums on one hand while shunning clearly needed innovations like instant replay could heap even more unwanted attention on the evolving hypocrisy that is FIFA.
Author: Chris Haddad is a lifelong Red Sox fan who currently works in finance in San Diego. He is a 2010 graduate of Columbia University, where he received an M.S. in Negotiation & Conflict Resolution. His passion for international sports spans across hockey, soccer and the Olympics. Adding to his diverse sports background, he’s an avid long-distance runner and rock climber. Chris can be reached at cghaddad77(at)gmail.com.
Photograph: Joern Pollex/Getty Images and The Guardian