FIFA’s Fix to Officiating? Embargo the Evidence

In response to Sunday’s incident that saw Carlos Tevez score a goal when he had been offside as the ball was played his way, giving Argentina the lead in a Round of 16 match they eventually won, 3-1, over Mexico, FIFA today produced its comprehensive response.

The answer? Hide the evidence so nobody – not the players, the coaches, or perhaps most importantly, the fans, know what the hell is going on.

FIFA announced today that it has instructed stadium operators in South Africa not to show replays of controversial plays for the rest of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Instead of taking steps to fix the issues that are leading to all the key blown calls we’ve seen in this tournament (the Lampard no goal; the Edu no goal; the Tevez goal, etc.), FIFA has decided it would be better to make sure that no one knows exactly what happened, and that will somehow make the game experience a better one.

FIFA is apparently responding to the reaction of Mexican players after seeing a replay of Tevez’s goal on a large monitor in the stadium yesterday. There was no doubt Tevez was offside, something clear to everyone who saw it, save for the assistant referee. Even when questioned by head referee Roberto Rosetti, the AR seemed to have no clue about what he’d just seen. He had much the same mystified look on his face as Koman Couliabaly did when he disallowed Edu’s goal for the US vs. Slovenia. Incensed, the Mexican team surrounded the AR and Rosetti as they talked, followed by a gathering of Argentina players when it appeared that the goal might be disallowed.

It stood, of course, and Argentina went on to win handily. But FIFA’s response to this situation, and the others we’ve seen before it, is asinine. Rather than having the sack to stand up and fix the problems by whatever technology or means are available, FIFA would rather perpetrate a lie to those in the stadium, telling players, coaches, and fans … “Move along! Nothing more to see here. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.”

It’s not as if other sports don’t do this. I’ve been to NHL, MLS, and NFL games where controversial events weren’t replayed. But at least in the case of the NHL and NFL, they are constantly taking measures to try and improve the very officiating that often leads to the controversy.

FIFA will do no such thing. They’d rather smirk through the notoriety and bad publicity that such events provide than have these plays actually dealt with correctly, ensuring a valid and fair game result.

Instead of validity, FIFA would rather you not even know what the hell you just saw. They want you fooled, not informed. It’s enough to turn “The Beautiful Game,” into the “The Beautiful Fraud.”

Our sport is hard enough to defend to the Neanderthal jacknuts that come out every 4 years at this time and feel the need to protect their manhood by declaring to the world that they aren’t watching the game for whatever stupid reason – as if the rest of us give a damn. But unfortunately, FIFA’s actions of late make the sport all the more indefensible.

I wonder what call will be the next one to be horribly botched.

I don’t know the answer; but safe to say, if you’re in the stadium when it happens … you’ll never know.

Soccer’s luddite leadership strikes again

Dumb and Dumber: Blatter and Valcke

On Saturday, FIFA, through its International Football Association Board, ruled the end to all discussion, speculation, and experimentation with any kind of technological or video review for soccer.

It’s the kind of short-sighted, arrogant nonsense we’ve come to expect out of sport’s worst governing body.

“The door is closed. Let’s keep the game of football as it is,” said Jerome Valcke, Fifa’s general secretary.

It’s the kind of decision that could only really come from FIFA, an organization utterly divorced from what actually matters within the sport.

What does FIFA have to say about the troubling system of smuggling poor Africans to European academies. Nothing.

What does FIFA have to say about its officials being irredeemably corrupt. Nothing.

What does FIFA have to say about the tsunami of debt poised to wash across the European game? Nothing.

But what does FIFA say when proponents of goal/no-goal technology attempt to bring soccer in-line with almost every single other major team sport in the world? They say, “Football is perfect,” as the Telegraph put it. “Time for lunch.”

It’s a disgrace, and it’s going to lead almost surely to a major World Cup match being determined by an indisputably incorrect call. And that costs us soccer fans in this country.

American sports fans do not sit well with the degree of injustice that can arise with just a single missed call in a soccer match. It goes against a basic expectation of fairness that comes with an American culture not mired in class-oriented disputes, resentment, and resignation going all the way back to feudal times. It’s not merely enough for soccer fans in this country to shrug, and go “that’s just the way it is.” The “way it is” is dead wrong and American sports fans are smart enough to see through that.

When people, especially in this country*, talk about how moronic soccer’s rules are, this, along with the continued acceptance of diving within the culture of the sport is what they mean. This decision will only further tarnish our sport when the inevitable botch comes at a World Cup.

And when the usual media suspects say how soccer is a joke and how it will never catch on because of this kind of nonsense, really, what will we, as soccer fans, have left to say?

The answer is, nothing.

* I should add that there is lots of criticism of soccer as a sport outside of the United States. Just ask those in the rugby community what they think of soccer’s wussified diving culture or ask those around cricket what they think of soccer’s total lack of respect for its own rules and officials. Remember, just because someone stupid like Jim Rome or Jay Mariotti says it, doesn’t make it wrong.

Blatter’s move on World Cup bids is a good one… surprisingly

The Al-Khalifa Stadium in Doha, Qatar.

The Guardian is reporting that FIFA and Sepp Blatter are set to announce that the 2018 World Cup bid process will be limited to European countries while the non-European bids will chase after the 2022 World Cup.

Believe it or not, I think this is a good move. For one, with the removal of strong English and Iberian bids, it turns the USA into a monumental favorite for 2022 over Australia, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Qatar. Also, it simplifies a process that was looking increasingly inscrutable and complicated from an outsider’s perspective.

Here’s why the US would turn into an almost prohibitive favorite. First of all there are all the usual benefits touted of the US bid like how all the stadiums are built, and all our infrastructure advantages and the numbers of hotel rooms and so on. But if the 2022 bidding is limited to non-European bids, that means the US becomes one of only two bids (along with Qatar) that could play matches in European primetime, thus maintaining or increasing the lucrative value of FIFA’s European TV contracts. Also, if the bid is pushed to 2022, it increases the chances that the bid could include the new NFL stadium being touted for Los Angeles in City of Industry.

The other bids would appear to have major weaknesses that the US doesn’t have to contend with. Australia has stadium issues (not enough rectangular ones) and opposition from many of those stadiums’ tenant rugby clubs who (unlike US stadium tenants) would find their seasons disrupted by the World Cup and its preparations.

Japan and South Korea could present strong separate bids using the 2002 stadiums as their backbones. Those two countries’ biggest problem is that they hosted a World Cup more recently than the USA did. I guarantee that Japan or Korea will host a second World Cup. I just don’t think it will be before the US hosts its second tournament.

Qatar is a very intriguing opponent and probably should serve as the US’ biggest worry. It’s in the heart of the Persian Gulf which has always served as major power base for Sepp Blatter’s reign as FIFA President. Additionally, it would bring the World Cup to the Arab world for the first time. Of course, Qatar also sits on the world’s third largest gas reserve, so money would not be an issue for its bid. Would FIFA require nothing but domed venues for a summer tournament to be held in the Middle East? Maybe, and Qatar might not even blink at that kind of expense. Finally, Qatar is in the midst of a major sports push after hosting the 2006 Asian Games. The country is already hosting the 2011 AFC Asian Cup and is also bidding on the 2020 Olympic Games. While Qatar still has some hurdles to overcome (no stadiums over 50,000 capacity), its staggering financial capacity will make it a difficult opponent for the US bid. All that being said, the US can point to its stadiums and hotel infrastructure and say that it could host a World Cup right now. Qatar cannot say the same.

Moving back to 2018, this move turns this race into a straight-ahead battle between England, Russia and joint bids from Spain/Portugal and Holland/Belgium. My guess is that, assuming you don’t see the Premier League or some of its big clubs (Manchester United and Liverpool, this means you) fall into total financial crisis, England and Spain/Portugal would be the two favorites for 2018. At this moment, I’d tip England as the very slight favorites.

What all this means is that fans hoping for a US-hosted World Cup should support this decision by Blatter and FIFA. Sometime a fat, Swiss squirrel with a penchant for women in garters does in fact find a nut.

FIFA’s resistance to instant replay has become farcical

Ed has a good piece on Thierry Henry already up so I won’t harp on too much further on the result itself. I am biased, he’s one of my 3-4 favorite players of all time. At this moment, I feel more pity for him than I do anything else.

Instead, I want to focus on the true cause of Ireland’s injustice yesterday, soccer’s continued refusal to institute any kind of replay review system. FIFA’s constant harping against replay review becomes more and more insipid by the day. I do not understand how a billion dollar business like soccer could allow its major events to be tainted by the prospect of a mistaken call. Even if you remove the completely flawed (but necessary) offside rule, soccer referees at every level are underequipped to handle a sport that has gotten bigger, faster and more complex since these rules were written in 1863. I don’t blame the refs, I blame FIFA for its continued intractabilty on this issue. I leave you with two, admittedly long questions to ponder.

1) How is soccer so different from the following sports that it cannot possible have video review while all of the following do?

  • Basketball – FIBA, the NBA, the NCAA, and ULEB (basketball’s UEFA) all have replay to ensure last second shots are valid or not.
  • Baseball – MLB has recently instituted instant replays for binary calls (fair/foul, in play/out of play, etc)
  • Football – Pro football was the first “field game” to use video replay back in the 80s and after many tweaks and one brief cancellation of the program, it remains. Additionally, DI College Football has recently instituted it as well.
  • Ice Hockey – NHL uses a very sophisticated system where officials both at the arena and back at League HQ in Toronto review goals. In the Olympics, governed by the IIHF all goals are automatically reviewed just to be safe.
  • Cricket – Cricket uses a third “TV” umpire to review many calls and can additionally use audio footage and the Hawk-eye computer aided video system to ensure calls are correct.
  • Rugby – Both codes of rugby have a third referee located in a booth to review contested calls by video. The main difference between the two is that League replay officials can use it to determine if players were offsides, while Union replay officials can only use it do decide possible “scoring events.”
  • Tennis – The ATP, WTA, and all four Grand Slams use video review systems to ensure line calls are correct.
  • Rodeo – Did you know that professional rodeo now uses replay to determine “timing issues, fouls against the rider for touching the bull or ground with his free hand or using the fence to stay on the bull, or fouls by the bull, such as dragging the rider across the fence.” Admittedly, I have no idea what any of that means.
  • NASCAR and IRL motor racing use video replay (amongst other sophisticated electronic timing equipment) to ensure that drivers don’t violate rules and that they are scored and ordered correctly.
  • Track and Field – The IAAF uses both sophisticated still imagery as well as video evidence to score races and settle disputes
  • Swimming – FINA uses cameras as part of its automated timing systems.
  • Horse Racing – Stewards regularly use video to determine fouls such as cutting off another horse.

I ask again, why is soccer so different that it couldn’t possible have video review and these sports can?

Here is my second question.

2) Why else would FIFA oppose video review so much other than it wants to maintain control and possibly manipulate matches as it sees fit? I hate conspiracy theories like this one, but I cannot think of another motivation for FIFA to be so against video review. When even hidebound morons like the baseball owners agree it’s time for video replay, then you know it’s past due.

Here’s what I would like to see. I’d like to see one of the major preeminant competitions like the Champions League, Premier League, or La Liga call FIFA’s bluff and simply say they’re going to implement replay, whether FIFA approves or not. This would force FIFA on to the back foot in the arena of public opinion and possibly force movement on the issue out of the governing body. Is Sepp Blatter going to stand atop the gates of Old Trafford on opening day screaming, “YOU CANNOT GO IN THERE, VIDEO REVIEW CAMERAS HAVE BEEN INSTALLED! DO NOT GO INTO THAT STADIUM!”

Here is my suggested system. As we can see from the variation of replay systems and rules from the sports above, there are lots of ways to do this. This is the idea I happened upon yesterday.

  1. Have two endline assistant referees empowered to recommend fouls (just like ARs do currently) and determine if goals should be given.
  2. Institute a replay system whereby at the next stoppage of play immediately after a contested call, the referee can refer a play to a video referee in the press box. This referee would have broad scope to make rulings on handballs, goals, and whether a ball was in or out of bounds. I would not use it for non-handball fouls or to determine if there was contact warrenting a penalty. I could envision using it to determine if a foul happened inside or outside the area, but not to replace the referees’ judgement on penalty calls.

About US leverage in soccer governance

I hate that I am becoming the new “Takedown-meister” here on BS, but this comment on Ed’s US-Mexico recap has set me off.

Ha! In terms of FIFA, the United States is not a change agent whatsoever, and for very good reasons, we can’t even if we wanted to, and that we probably don’t want to, in the first place.

First of all, I love the very American inability to deal with injustice. “We need to do something. Something must change,” we yell.

Guess what – yelling won’t help.

The USA has almost zero leverage to act as a change agent on FIFA, or CONCACAF or whatever. Here’s why,

1) Blatter and Warner have created an extremely comprehensive and effective network of patronage relationships that ensure small, easily manipulated countries, form up the base of their political support within CONCACAF and FIFA. Blatter learned from the master, Joao Havelange, and has created a nearly iron-clad alliance of third-world votes with Gulf oil money within FIFA. Even big, bad UEFA has very little to use to push FIFA towards policies it likes. They’re stuck too, to a large extent, just like us.

2) I am sure people look at some of the American-instituted improvements in Olympic governance and process and say, “Why can’t we do that in FIFA. Here’s why. Not even Coca Cola and Visa’s considerable support of FIFA comes close to the creating the kind of influence that the USA has over IOC through the enormous rights fees that NBC-Universal pays (and arguably overpays) for the media rights. That gives NBC, and the US sponsors who back up NBC, far more sway over the IOC than US Soccer has with FIFA where its two rights-holders (ABC/ESPN and Univision) only paid $425 million for all FIFA tournaments from 2007 to 2014. Additionally, the American FIFA partners, Coca Cola and Visa paid $500M and $200M respectively for their deals. That adds up to about $1.12B worth of American support to FIFA.

Compare that to NBC paying $1.18 billion for the 2012 London games alone on top of another $820M for the Vancouver games and another $160-200M for parent company GE to become an IOC partner.

Quick point to think about – in the eyes of American TV companies, one Winter Olympics (in a US-friendly time-zone, making it more valuable) is worth twice as much as the both the 2010 and 2014 World Cups and all the other FIFA tournaments.

You want to be a change agent? You’re looking at a minimum of $2.16 billion worth of leverage in the IOC right there. Not to pile on, but in order to get a fair comparison, I should’ve also included the investments by American IOC partners Visa, McDonalds and Coca Cola but I couldn’t find good figures for them.

Until we see that kind of investment in soccer from US firms and media backers, we won’t have that much influence within FIFA directly. That is probably the only way Americans could really attract FIFA’s attention to anything. The reality is that they don’t need us nearly as much we need them.

Now that I’ve shown how little influence the US has within FIFA, let me explain far more quickly why it is not in the United States’ best interest to “rock the boat” against CONCACAF and FIFA.

We’re trying to bid to host the World Cup.

That’s why. This is fairly binary here. If we were to get too bitchy about officiating, corruption or whatever with CONCACAF and FIFA, we’d be shooting our World Cup bid in the foot with a very high-powered rifle.

Do I like that Sunil Gulati plays buddy-buddy with kleptocrats like Warner and Blatter and takes part in utterly disgusting acts of slavish devotion like this one?

[ame=””%5DThis will not make you feel proud of US Soccer.[/ame]

Of course not. But that’s how the game is played with FIFA, folks. If you want a World Cup, that’s what it’s going to take. If missing out on another chance to host a World Cup in our life time (and get the knock-on effects on the sport’s popularity here) is worth the warm-fuzzy feeling that being on the side of good sports governance gives you – fine, you’re either childishly naive or an idiot and, either way, you should leave the discussion of the influence and politics of international sport to the big boys. Warm and fuzzy doesn’t work for me and it definitely doesn’t work with FIFA. I want the World Cup here and I understand what it requires to get it.