The referee's friend: Only technology can keep the game beautiful

Countless replays make us all experts - all, that is, apart from the poor old ref


Another World Cup kicks off and the fans' anticipation is, as always, unbounded. But those old demons, "poor" refereeing and player simulation, have raised their horned heads. Brazil's 3-1 victory over Croatia threw up three pivotal and wrong refereeing decisions, and they could all have been avoided.

There are many questions one could ask of Fifa, but one that keeps coming around is why the most popular and lucrative sport on the planet regularly makes itself a global laughing stock by refusing to embrace the technology now being used in other serious professional sports.

The arguments against are well rehearsed: constant reference to a technical umpire would stop the action's flow; it would undermine referees, who would be bombarded with appeals to go to video playback; there's a random fairness in the system as it is because the errors balance out. Please!

Let me take you back to Paris, in 2009, when Thierry Henry, the respected BBC World Cup pundit, single-handedly denied the Republic of Ireland a place at South Africa 2010 by controlling the ball with his hand before setting up the crucial goal for France.

It took nearly four minutes to restart that match. Had the referee had a rugby-style TMO (Television Match Official) to review the tape, he would have seen within 30 seconds that it should have been no goal and a yellow card for Henry. If controversial incidents are resolved incorrectly, and the only one who doesn't know it is the person making the call, then it is the credibility of the event, and the sport, that is undermined. Countless replays make us all experts these days – all of us, that is, apart from the poor old ref.

The prospect of instant justice for cheats would be a great deterrent. If Henry had known he would not gain by brazenly cheating, he would not have done it. Nor would Brazil's Fred have thrown himself down to win a corrupt penalty against Croatia. (I hope Fred doesn't think he's a role model for kids.) Furthermore, would technology not end the play-acting that wastes so much time and does so much harm to the reputation of the beautiful game?

On that night in Paris, the most forlorn figure was the referee himself. He knew within seconds, by the vehemence of the Irish protests, that he'd got it wrong, but he could do nothing about it. What other multibillion-pound global brand would allow its key decision makers to go into a high-visibility situation laden with risk without all the right information and technical back-up? As for the "balance of error" argument, the quality team is not always the best on the day and the best team does not always win. That's why we all go to watch. But why encourage dishonesty?

David Ryan won a runner's up medal from the Coventry & District Premier League (1978-79 season)

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