Peter Corrigan: Why the refs and the fans need a look-in

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The Independent Online

Fifa's decision last week to censor what video replays spectators can be allowed to see on the giant screens present at every World Cup stadium in Korea and Japan must lead to a serious review of future policy regarding video evidence.

Fifa's decision last week to censor what video replays spectators can be allowed to see on the giant screens present at every World Cup stadium in Korea and Japan must lead to a serious review of future policy regarding video evidence.

Screens are here to stay, and if we want fans to keep turning up they have to be offered a similar viewing service to that available to the idle slobs who stay at home. "Being there" is not supposed to be a disadvantage. This has been my only complaint against Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, where the screens stay blank when fans are desperate to take another look at a goal, near-miss or controversial incident.

I found myself in the unusual position of agreeing with the Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, when he decreed at the start of the tournament that they would be showing "warts and all" replays.

But the warts turned out to be too uncomfortable for referees, and when there were rebellious murmurings from England supporters attending their first match against Sweden, Fifa began to backtrack and finally ruled that disputed incidents would not be repeated on the screens.

There had been cases of players using replays to back up their protests to referees and at least one suspicion that a ref had sneaked a quick look at the screen before giving a decision.

I can see reason for the disquiet, but replays can calm as often as they incite. When Portugal's João Pinto was sent off for a foul on Korea's Park Ji-Sung on Friday, referee Angel Sanchez was subject to a physical hassling by furious Portuguese players. I'm surprised they got away with it. Had they bothered to glance up, they would have seen that Pinto was lucky to avoid a charge of attempted wounding.

Portugal, who had another player justifiably sent off, went out of the competition swearing that they had been robbed. The screens would have given the lie to that excuse.

The Italians were entitled to be incensed by the goal they had disallowed for offside in their match against Croatia. The replay showed the decision to be farcically incorrect, but it could have sent Italy home. The English referee Graham Poll, who is officiating out there, claims that the replays put too much pressure on the referees and, quite rightly, points out that the existing laws do not permit them to use video evidence to change their decision.

After a long prevarication about the use of the video to help adjudicate on difficult rulings, the time has surely arrived for a change in the law. It is one thing to have to refer to a video ref at the back of the stand but it is another when the ref can see the incident again in a matter of seconds.

We do not envy referees when they have a split-second decision to make and have to respect their opinion. When the truth is soon available at a glance, it is ridiculous not to take advantage.

One of the arguments against the use of the screen as an adjudicator is that the process would hold up the game. But after almost every dodgy tackle the victim goes down like a shot stag and a M*A*S*H unit runs on from the sidelines.

There is plenty of time for the ref, and the spectators, to consult the screen and see what really happened. It would soon become an integral part of the game and would remove most of the controversy that seems to follow every peep of the whistle.

Fifa have a reputation for studying the craziest suggestions for reforming the game, from bigger goals to splitting a game into quarters instead of halves. This proposal has so many merits that they cannot ignore it.

Not that we should put anything past them. A Fifa official has offered the opinion that a World Cup hosted by two countries does not work. That he should have said this on Friday, a few hours before the skies above Korea and Japan were blasted by two of the biggest eruptions of pure joy the game has ever known, proves that the game's rulers have not lost their knack for crass timing.

Even before the tournament began, they brazenly staged the most disruptive and disreputable congress in their history as if to show the world that unity, teamwork and fair play were virtues to be obeyed by footballers but not the body who run the game.

We should be grateful for their willingness to suspend the back-stabbing and horse-trading to allow a little football to occur while they take a breather before belabouring each other again.

By now, they should be recognising that if the first stage is anything to judge by, they have stumbled on the most refreshingly dramatic World Cup in the competition's 72-year history, and quibbling about the hosting arrangements does not reveal an understanding of this challenge to our perception of where football's strengths lie.

How can anyone, especially someone who belongs to an organisation whose prime responsibility is the welfare of the game worldwide, complain about the priceless appeal that football is creating out in the Far East? We can sympathise with the inconvenience to those committed to following closely this two-centre feast. Fifa officials, always willing to wear their blazers in the most humid conditions, are being dragged back and forth across the Sea of Japan, just as the press, TV and radio personnel are, but that's part of the honour of doing the job.

What about those who are paying for the privilege; the supporters of the various countries who are making such a clamorous and colourful contribution? It is hard to accept that Fifa have ever bothered about the folk who actually attend these events. They appear to be low down on the list of priorities when it comes to ensuring they get fair access to tickets, good accommodation and, once inside the stadium, the same rights as those at home.

We have to accept that the World Cup, like the Olympic Games, is a television event for billions watching around the globe from armchairs, bar-stools, town squares and jungle clearings and will never be anything else.

Where a match is being staged becomes an irrelevance to the viewers. If the crowds weren't there, however, viewing pleasure would suffer drastically and we would lose that special atmosphere you can sense from the screen.

We could have expected England to have the biggest representation over there, but even the most stalwart bearers of the St George's cross are surprised to find themselves outnumbered by Japanese clad in everything English but the bellies.

That so many, locals and visitors, had problems getting tickets is an insult to them. It would be more forgivable if it was a solitary failing, but similar problems were experienced in France in 1998 and in previous tournaments.

I don't know what financial benefits accrue from appointing one remote agency to handle all the ticketing, neither do I want to, but the policy seems in urgent need of revision. The simplest solution would be to let the hosts organise ticket sales. The task, after all, is central to the success of the operation.

The only unerringly accurate ticket channel is that which leads to the touts, and Fifa have been embarrassed by disclosures that tickets issued to a high-ranking official who is close to Blatter have found their way to the black market.

This might be the answer to the ticketing problems. If all Fifa delegates were each allocated a bundle of tickets and told to flog them off and send the money to HQ, minus a modest handling fee, a more efficient distribution might result.

There will be much for Fifa to consider when it is all over. They ought to reflect that this is not a private game for them to fight over. It belongs to the people, and especially to the people who, at considerable trouble and expense, travel to become a living, breathing and sweating part of it. The essential part, perhaps.

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