James Lawton: Federer and Hiddink press Fifa to move out of the dark ages
Both said, in so many words, that Blatter was lugging around a stone-age philosophy
Wednesday 30 June 2010
Fifa president Sepp Blatter may not have sounded a full, red-faced retreat here yesterday but the flat-earth crowd who have argued the world's most popular game should stay rooted in the dark ages had better start working out their strategic withdrawals.
The argument is surely just about over now. So far, Blatter, having apologised profusely to England for the outrageous denial of the Frank Lampard goal last Sunday, appears to be having second thoughts only on the issue of goal-line technology but this, you have to suspect, will prove the thin edge of a wedge that has for so long carried a huge weight of logic.
Helping the forces of light this week have been Blatter's compatriot Roger Federer and the hugely respected Dutch football man Guus Hiddink. Both said, in so many words, that Blatter was lugging around a stone-age philosophy, the latter adding that if he didn't move on such a basic issue, he ought to resign.
The debate tilted hugely in favour of the reformists when Thierry Henry was allowed to win France, of all wretched beneficiaries, a fraudulent ticket to this World Cup when he blatantly handled the ball before supplying the cross for the goal that knocked out the Republic of Ireland at the Stade de France.
Here, the missing of Lampard's goal and, just a few hours later, Carlos Tevez's green light on the outrageous offside strike inflicted on a Mexican team who were playing with verve and hope at the time, re-crystallised the argument for technological assistance for match officials.
Interestingly, even the match officials seem to be on the point of running up the white flag, surrendering the beat-up dogma of referee infallibility. Dermot Gallagher points out, as Arsène Wenger did following the Henry incident, that much of the world instantly knew something quite lost on the referee; that something utterly preventable had gone horribly wrong. The last-ditch argument that sport is about odd twists of fortune and that to interfere with this is to somehow remove an integral part of its appeal will no longer do. Logical results will remain subject to unforeseen hazards but they should not be subject to official negligence.
Another dogged argument against technology is that it would halt the flow of a fast-moving, free-wheeling game. It is still another piece of nonsense. The Henry, Lampard and Tevez embarrassments would have been rectified in the time it took a fourth official to inform the referee, via his headphone, of the horrendous oversight. This was done, unofficially, in the last World Cup final, when Zinedine Zidane was sent off for headbutting an Italian defender.
Meanwhile, Fifa has flirted with extra officials in the goal-area while ignoring the fact that technology provides an all-seeing eye removed from the possibilities of human error.
Blatter said yesterday: "We will take on board the discussions and have the first opportunity in the business meeting in July. The only principle we're going to bring back for discussion is goal-line technology. Football is a game that never stops and do we give the possibility for a team to call for replays?"
No, we just arm referees with the means to avoid decisions liable to haunt them for the rest of their lives. We also use video evidence for retrospective justice, whatever the decision of a referee at the time. This isn't to undermine an official who can be judged worldwide in a second while being denied the evidence of his persecutors. It is to acknowledge that he cannot get everything right and sometimes that which he gets wrong can make a mockery of something as huge as a World Cup.
After the Henry outrage, the Irish and their sympathisers were told by some to get over themselves. This wasn't life or death, but merely sport – something to laugh about with your mates in the pub. So why bother with sport in the first place? Why see in it the prospect of massive uplift or terrible deflation? Why allow it any purpose other than to fuel Neanderthal discussion after the first few pints?
Of course, these latest incidents have their precedents, notably Maradona's Hand of God, England's highly debatable third goal in the 1966 final and the shameful exclusion of the great Frenchman Laurent Blanc from the climax to the 1998 because of a disgusting piece of play-acting that was clearly visible to a worldwide television audience. You might say such incidents bring a certain spice to football. But, just as bizarrely, you could also say the odd car smash livens up motorway travel.
If sport is worth anything, it should be got right. To settle for less, as Fifa was content to before this 17th World Cup, is worse than careless. It is a calculated insult, one that, thankfully, may now soon be in the past.
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