Monday, June 28, 2010

FIFA could be going down the path of MLB

Soon enough I will stop pretending to care about soccer. But one thing I definitely care about is controversy, and the FIFA World Cup has been full of that so far.

It all started in qualifying, when France's Thierry Henry's obvious handball was missed by the refs and cost Ireland a shot at the World Cup. Karma's a killer though, as the French had their share of non-official related controversy once the World Cup began. As an American, I couldn't be happier about all the drama surrounding the French team and their exit from the tournament.

During the actual World Cup, there have been plenty of human-error issues with referees. The U.S. lost a victory against Slovenia after a spirited comeback due to a phantom foul call in the waning minutes and if it weren't for a Landon Donovan extra-time goal against Algeria there would have been a lot to complain about in the United States, especially since the refs wrongly took a goal away from Clint Dempsey in the Algeria game by calling him offside.

Sadly, these weren't the only blunders made by FIFA referees. On Sunday, England had a shot bounce off the crossbar and behind the goalline that would have tied their game with Germany, 2-2. Instead, the refs called nothing as the German goalkeeper snatched the ball out of the air behind the line and the Brits went on to lose, 4-1.

On the same day, Carlos Tevez was blatantly offside when he scored the Argentina-Mexico game's first goal, but it was also missed by the refs. Argentina went on to beat Mexico, 3-1. In both cases the better team won, but both missed calls drastically shifted the momentum of their games. England coach Stuart Pearce was quoted as saying his team could have played a different style if the game had been tied.

The most frustrating part about all of this for soccer fans (and Americans like myself who are pretending to like the sport only during the World Cup) is that FIFA is willing to do nothing about it. FIFA officials have consistently refused to consider replay as a viable option and after a half-time confrontation between players, coaches and refs in the Argentina-Mexico match, will even stop showing controversial plays on stadium big screens. Rather than addressing the problem head-on, FIFA is doing everything possible to avoid it.

Baseball fans, does this sound familiar? Didn't Bud Selig and the rest of the MLB brass ignore the steroid issue until it was too late? Now baseball has a black eye it may never recover from and an era that saw many talented players pass through the game is tainted forever. Is FIFA trying to let the same thing happen with the 2010 World Cup?

Apparently not anymore, as FIFA president Sepp Blatter has apologized for the officiating errors and said FIFA will re-open the discussion of using goal-line replay technology (and only goal-line technology) for the next World Cup. Out of the five controversial calls I've alluded to in this post, only one would be fixed by goal-line technology. Is this enough?

I don't believe it is and not surprisingly, I have a suggestion to make everything better. Goal-line technology is all well and good but all five of these controversial plays happened inside the penalty box. Limiting replay to controversial plays within the box would solve all the issues we have seen in this year's World Cup.

Although it would be difficult to find visual evidence to overturn the phantom foul call that cost the U.S. a victory against Slovenia, it would clearly help in the two offside cases as well as the Henry handball. Screw goal-line technology; if FIFA really wants to keep the integrity of its sport at a high level and not go down the same path MLB did with steroids, they need to adopt in-the-box techology. And if they call it that, I will demand royalties.

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