Smiting the FIFA gods with a bit of technology

June 29, 2010

 

United States' Michael Bradley, left, argues with Mali's referee Koman Coulibaly during the World Cup group C soccer match between Slovenia and the United States at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, Friday, June 18, 2010. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

“I’m so glad the World Cup is here!” I exclaim in front of my colleagues out here in WVU’s Coliseum. I’m surrounded by true sports aficionados—men and women who research all manners of sport, sport management, sport psychology, kinesiology, fitness, physical therapy—and my exclamation is met with a sound rebuke:

“Ah, I’m not a soccer fan.” “Soccer is boring.” “What a ridiculous set of rules they have!”

And the tirades go on and on as I try to get people to join in a World Cup bracket pool. “What’s wrong with soccer?” I say. “It’s a beautiful, global sport!”

One peer looks at me dryly, “For one thing, everybody falls down like they’ve been shot,” referring to the players that take dramatic dives in order to draw fouls from the ref. “And another thing, I really hate how the refs are treated as gods.”

Boom. He got me there. And I began to think—mind you this was before the first game kicked off this summer in South Africa—why are the refs treated like gods? And before my train of thought left the station, I was witness to the first hideous call by a ref: a disallowed goal called on USA vs. Slovenia. Malian native Koman Coulibaly took away a good goal from American Maurice Edu. No one was offside, and the multitude of high-definition cameras, placed at every conceivable angle (inside the goal, from the sky, close-up on the feet, above the goal, from the sidelines, etc.), and shown at super slow motion, recorded the fact that there wasn’t one thing that should have disallowed the goal. In fact, the Slovenians had three different Americans in headlocks or bear hugs. An Announcer proclaimed, “That’s one of the worst calls I’ve every seen in World Cup history.” What’s even better? Coulibaly didn’t have to explain anything—to anyone. He was certainly playing the part of a god. The goal was taken away, and thus the U.S. was forced to a draw, stopping an improbable comeback from a 2-0 Slovenian run in the first half.

But I’m not a huge USA fan. Honest. I also used to defend the archaic system of World Cup rules and gods to my NFL, MLB, and NHL-loving friends. “It’s a global sport, guys,” I’d say. “You can’t have instant replay in a lot of cities in third world countries.” And then I’d say something about how we should look outside our country’s mindset, or something similarly pithy.

Additionally, I don’t like how instant replay can bog down a game. I can understand why the NFL uses it, because the rules are vast and complicated, the game is fast and frenetic, and a lot of speed and bulk are crammed on a field much smaller than soccer. Having “video refs” takes away part of the game; it can stop the ebb and flow of a game’s twists and turns.

My turning point was, however, once FIFA started using their dozens of beautiful camera shots, replaying to the world all of the referees’ major blunders over and over again. And in HD, too. I think once you start negating the officials with television, it’s time to make a change, or you’re forever going to face scrutiny.

But don’t take my word for it. Look at the camera shots. What have they captured so far? Read the rest of this entry »

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