James Lawton: This injustice highlights the folly of Fifa
They are doing the officials a disservice by not implementing goal-line technology
Monday 08 March 2010
As long as Fifa goes on ignoring the need for technology we can be certain of only one thing. It is that the ludicrousness of its policy will continue to be exposed by the consequences of refusing to face a whole list of realities.
One is that Fifa is not only making a poor fist of joining the 21st century with its failure to see that football is, among other things, a living organism that cannot be denied the oxygen of vital change. Another is that it is also creating a growing groundswell of exasperation in many parts of football.
The remaining question is one that can only be accompanied by mounting disbelief: what it will it take to overthrow finally the Luddite persuasion?
Frustration was certainly racked up another notch with the latest absurdity at the weekend, the failure to award Birmingham City a clearly legitimate goal.
Breaking point should, of course, have come several months ago when Thierry Henry guided France into the finals of the World Cup with an appalling piece of cheating that was made so much worse by the fact that some easily applied television monitoring by a fourth official would have effortlessly prevented the disaster of Ireland's unfair ejection. Against the worldwide revulsion that greeted events at the Stade de France, reaction to the failure of match officials at Fratton Park on Saturday to register the fact that Birmingham had indeed scored a goal in their FA Cup tie was scarcely a ripple.
However, this particular stone tossed so carelessly into the pond surely constituted another significant contribution to the argument that so long ago seemed irrefutable to anyone keen on the idea that the integrity of the game needed all available protection – and that this was especially with a growing tide of systematic cheating, a sickening hazard for match officials already confronting a game growing faster by the season.
No one cheated at Portsmouth but this didn't alter the fact that a moment's glance at a television screen was enough to see that a potentially huge injustice had been allowed to happen.
With almost comic timing, Liam Ridgewell's perfectly legal goal was accompanied by a newsflash from Zurich that Fifa had again made it clear it would not be moving an inch closer to accepting the need for technological assistance.
Birmingham manager Alex McLeish's protest was perfectly weighted in sweet reason.
After accepting that his team did not deserve to beat a Portsmouth team astonishingly determined to play through a growing threat to their existence with great spirit, McLeish said: "We should have had a lifeline. I wouldn't bet against my side coming back from there. You expect an official at this level to spot that [the fact that Ridgewell's short-range stab at the ball had clearly sent it beyond the goal-line] but it's a split-second decision. They do fitness tests and part of that is the vision side of things. It's a shame the guy missed that. I'm sure he will be hurting about it. They're doing the officials a disservice by not having goal-line technology but we'll take it on the chin."
No change there, then. What else can the victims of miscarriages of justice that are inevitable but so easy to detect with a television camera do? They just have to live with the consequences – as do those who profit from a failure of proper monitoring of those occasions when referees and linesmen for one reason or another fail to do their job. McLeish's statesmanlike performance was enhanced by his point that it is not only managers and players who are damaged by the existing situation. "Many officials would welcome the help provided by technology," he said.
No doubt the resistance to change will continue to be fuelled by the old, played-out arguments. You know them well enough. These things level themselves out. Technology would interrupt the flow of the game. Referees and linesmen would be diminished.
The feebleness of such arguments can surely no longer bear the most casual scrutiny. Certainly, they had never been so besieged as in the wake of the Henry outrage. Then, an Irish team which had played with brilliant optimism and purpose was aghast to see their chance of victory and the great prize of a ticket to South Africa taken away, stolen before their eyes... and those of a watching world.
Only the match officials were in the dark about the scale of Henry's cheating as he controlled the ball with his hand before making the decisive cross. How long would it have taken to wipe away that catastrophe? No longer than the uttering of a few words by the fourth official.
Who would have been diminished then? Only the culprit Henry, exposed for an act dismaying, it seemed quickly enough, both to himself as well as the great army of his admirers.
At Fratton Park a fourth official could easily have rectified the human error – and saved his colleagues from a nightmare that threatens all match officials.
Henry does not appear to be benefiting too much from his successful flouting of the rules. One problem is that he also finds himself a victim of official indecision as the French coach, Raymond Domenech, remains in office despite becoming an object of derision in most quarters of the French game – and not least the dressing room of the national team. Henry was a desolate figure when he walked off the Stade de France pitch with boos in his ears after being replaced last Wednesday during a dismal defeat at the hands of World Cup co-favourites Spain. He also bemoans his fate at Barcelona, where since the handball affair he has been given no more than a few walk-on parts.
He says: "The important thing is not to arrive in South Africa injured. When you don't play regularly you lose everything – speed and form."
Some would say that it might also be a sad case of misplaced integrity. Others just blame it on the ref, as they will continue to do for as long as Fifa sits on its hands.
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