Editorial: Fifa in denial

Last updated 05:00 30/06/2010

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OPINION: Football prides itself on being the "beautiful game", but the current World Cup in South Africa has been marred by too many ugly refereeing decisions.

One of the most egregious occurred this week when England's Frank Lampard was not awarded a goal against Germany despite the ball clearly crossing the goal line after hitting the crossbar.

This must serve as a wake-up call for Fifa boss Sepp Blatter and his top officials to get their heads out of the sand and harness the electronic technology successfully used by so many other sports.

Many major tennis tournaments use electronic systems to determine whether a ball is in or out, while photo finishes are used in athletics.

Cricket, rugby union and rugby league also use modern technology in the form of instant video replays monitored by an additional match official off the field. Goal-line technology would have clearly established that Lampard had scored against Germany.

Football is a low-scoring sport in which a single goal can be vital. Lampard's denied goal would have levelled the score and the dynamics of the match might have changed, although only supreme English optimists would believe their team could have won.

The sheer pace of football is another reason why technology should be embraced by Fifa. The assistant referee in Lampard's case was not in any position to determine where the ball had landed and, as it was an unexpected long distance shot, the referee might have been focusing more on off-side issues.

But football should also consider more than just goal-line technology. Already at this World Cup, penalties have been erroneously awarded after an opposing player staged a theatrical dive, such as occurred to New Zealand against Italy.

And it was obvious that Argentinian Carlos Tevez was well off-side when he scored his first "goal" against Mexico this week.

At the very least, Fifa should consider having a player challenge system, utilising instant replays, such as is used in tennis and which has been trialled in cricket.

In both sports the number of challenges is controlled, with the right to do so ending in tennis after three unsuccessful appeals per set to prevent frivolous questioning of decisions. Had such a system been available in football it would certainly have been utilised, successfully, by Mexico after Tevez's off-side goal, and by England.

A limited challenge system would not be unduly disruptive to the flow of the game, as the decision could be dramatically revealed the next time the ball went dead.

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Nor should using technology, as has been claimed, somehow impugn the credibility of match officials. Referees know that human error can occur and many would prefer the certainty of technology to the public vilification they can receive when a crucial decision is incorrect.

Fifa's continued aversion to technology at the World Cup, which is the pinnacle of achievement in the sport, is an insult to the football world.

It sends a signal that Fifa is prepared to tolerate palpably wrong refereeing decisions when the technological tools to help avoid the errors are proven and available. Fifa therefore must abandon its hidebound and Luddite mentality.

- The Press

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