Upon further review, soccer’s governing body now agrees that something must be done about the blatant missed calls that have infuriated fans and players alike at the World Cup.
Just what that something is, though, won’t even be addressed until after the tournament in South Africa is over.
A high-tech solution is possible, but it probably would address only that most egregious of refereeing mistakes: whether or not the ball crosses the goal line. Even putting the idea on the table, however, is a concession for an organization that has long insisted that errors by officials are simply part of the game.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter said Tuesday that changes will be considered, and that he has apologized to the English and Mexican teams, both of which were victims of bad calls Sunday. Several other teams were incorrectly denied or granted goals earlier in the World Cup.
Blatter said “something has to be changed” to prevent similar embarrassments in the future.
“After having witnessed such a situation,” Blatter said, “we have to open again this file, definitely.”
In 2008, Blatter said soccer should be left with errors and that officiating should be left to “a man, not a machine.” But on Tuesday he said, “It would be a nonsense to not reopen the file of technology.”
The International Football Association Board will consider the issue at a July meeting in Cardiff, Wales. There’s no guarantee Blatter’s promise to revisit the use of the latest technology means he has changed his mind, or that it will lead to new procedures at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
FIFA has resisted using high-tech solutions numerous times before, saying it wants the game to be played — and officiated — the same whether it’s a rec team or England’s Premier League. FIFA also can block any proposed rule changes that come before the IFAB.
But by promising to study the issue after this tournament, Blatter can silence his critics for now and return the spotlight to the first World Cup on the African continent, what he considers the crowning achievement of his long career.
Soccer has steadfastly refused to make changes while major sports including tennis, American football, baseball and hockey have employed video replay and other high-tech gadgets to help officials get calls right.
Then came the cascade of officiating errors at this World Cup, none worse than the blunders that hurt England and Mexico as they were knocked out of the second round Sunday.
England was denied a goal against Germany when Frank Lampard’s shot bounced off the crossbar and over the goal line. If the goal had been given by Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda, England would have tied the game at 2-2 in the 38th minute. Germany won the match 4-1.
Hours later, Italian referee Roberto Rosetti awarded Argentina a goal despite Carlos Tevez clearly being offside. Argentina went on to beat Mexico 3-1.
Both Larrionda and Rosetti have been left off the list of referees for the rest of the World Cup.
FIFPro, the group that represents pro players worldwide, issued a statement afterward saying that referees should have access to high-tech assistance.
“The entire football world once again reacted with disbelief to FIFA’s stubborn insistence that technology does not belong in football,” FIFPro said. “The credibility of the sport is at stake.”
At a media briefing Tuesday, FIFA’s head of refereeing, Jose-Maria Garcia-Aranda, repeatedly insisted it was not for officials to determine what the rules of the game should be. But English ref Howard Webb, who officiated last month’s Champions League final, said he appreciates any help he can get, so long as it doesn’t affect the character of the game.
“I’m open-minded about anything that makes us more credible as match officials,” Webb said. “Whatever tools I am given I will use them to the best of my ability, and I will use all the experience I have to try to come to the correct decisions.”
Blatter was at both the England and Mexico matches, and apologized to soccer officials from each country.
“The English said, ‘Thank you.’ The Mexicans, they just (nodded),” Blatter said. “I understand that they are not happy. It was not a five-star game for refereeing.”
In the past, the IFAB has considered placing a microchip in the ball to signal when it crosses the goal-line as well as using the camera-based Hawk-Eye replay system that tennis uses. But it rejected both on principle.
Such systems could have helped England against Germany when the referee did not see the ball cross the goal line. But they would not help when the issue is an offside call or a foul, as it was in the Mexico-Argentina game and all the earlier questionable goal calls of the World Cup.
With calls “like in the Mexico game, we don’t need technology,” Blatter said.
And Denmark’s Peter Mikkelsen Scheef, a member of FIFA’s Referees Committee, placed the blame in that game squarely on Rosetti, who officiated at the 2008 European Championship final.
“(Rosetti) was not sharp enough, not focused enough, and that is an error that the technology cannot change anything about,” Peter Mikkelsen Scheef told Denmark’s TV2 channel.
Philip Pritchard, president of the Welsh Football Federation, said goal-line technology has to be perfect before it can be approved.
“Ninety-nine percent (accurate) is no better than what we’ve got” now, Pritchard said.
One thing that is certain is that FIFA will update its referee training program. FIFA has set a deadline of this fall to create a new concept for improving communication and decision-making among match officials at top tournaments, Blatter said.
He also said FIFA spent $40 million on a program to prepare match officials worldwide before selecting 30 referees and 60 assistants to work in South Africa.
“They have their eyes, their perception of the game,” Blatter said. “So let’s make that better and hope we are going forward.”