FIFA Scoffs at Instant Replay in Soccer: Good or Bad?

Erik Linask : Sports Technology
Erik Linask
writer

FIFA Scoffs at Instant Replay in Soccer: Good or Bad?

confed cup.pngI'd had a single bottle of light beer at Terri's Tavern in Port Chester, N.Y. that night 2002 - well under the legal limit - as my wife and I rode back home in my old beat up Saab, up the Boston Post Road toward Stamford, Conn.
 
After my parents' bitter divorce, my father, a Bronx-born auto mechanic, unfairly and venomously compared my mom to the Sweden-made Saab, saying something about how everything was great for the first 60,000 miles and then, bam.
 
He was wrong his ex-wife - a phenomenal woman, as Maya Angelou would say - but the Saab my wife and I drove home that night certainly was showing signs of wear. The floor panel from the rear driver's side seat was rusted out and had so many holes that you could see the pavement whizzing by underfoot. Sort of like Fred Flintstone but far more painful.
 
And the electrical system was in tatters, with brake lights and back-up lights and signal lights and head lights and high beams on the fritz almost constantly. Ultimately, that was what made the Greenwich, Conn. police pull us over, my wife and I, that night seven years ago.
 
"Do you know why I pulled you over?" asked a police officer whose kindness I would remember years later, when I became a newspaper reporter in Greenwich and covered cops on the weekends. "Your tail light is out."
 
I explained to him that the car was not in great shape and that I would have it looked into. He asked had I been drinking and I told him that I'd had a single beer back at Terri's during the United States-Mexico World Cup soccer match.
 
"Oh yeah? Did we win?"
 
I told him that we had, 2-0.
 
He nodded and told me to get my car looked at, he was letting me go with a warning.
 
. . .
 
Until yesterday, that was my favorite World Cup memory. A lot has changed since 2002, when I would take the tips from my well-paying bar job in Stamford to make dozens of high stakes wagers on the outcome of the international tournament.
 
I'm not nearly so careless these days. In fact, as I watched the U.S. squad play in its first FIFA event final yesterday - the Confederations Cup match versus Brazil - my wife and I sat on sofas with our two dogs in an apartment that's littered with moving boxes. (We bought our first house last week.)
 
U.S. soccer - despite the Brazilians' thrilling come-from-behind victory, 3-2, on the cold South African pitch yesterday - has also come a long way. As one of the most advanced and populous nation's in the world, the United States historically has fared poorly in the world's most important and popular sport. But then, during this tournament, the Yanks snuck through a qualifying round, then ousted the world's top-ranked team in Spain, and took a 2-0 lead over Brazil to halftime, until that superior force turned up the heat and blew by the Americans.
 
So it's interesting that today, we're reading about how an increasingly common technology - instant replay - is being shunned for the foreseeable future by FIFA itself, the governing body for much of soccer's (or football's, more properly) most important play.
 
The organization's president, Joseph Blatter, reported said that referees' decisions won't be second-guessed in soccer the way they are, say, in American football or the way they now are, in disputed home run and fair-or-foul calls, in baseball, or the way they are in tennis, when players can challenge a limited number of in-or-out calls by chair and line umpires.
 
"Football is not tennis," said Blatter. "There is a big difference between the two sports. In tennis, there is only one dimension, which is the line. Football has three dimensions. It has been tested in England that even with seven cameras, it still difficult to assess if the ball has crossed the line. Therefore, let us let football be football where human errors are part of the human sport."
 
Amen. Kind of. Given that there's so little scoring in soccer, I wouldn't mind seeing instant replay used when there are disputed goals.
 
But generally speaking, I feel as Blatter does about my own favorite sport: Baseball.
 
It irritates me that these virtual strike zones pop up on screen after close pitches or during close games now, as though some TV producer were testing the ability of an umpire to call balls and strikes.
 
And it's not about human error, either. It's part of baseball for an umpire to have his own sense of the strike zone, for a pitcher to work the corners and expand that zone, for a veteran to get the benefit of a close call before a rookie.
 
Having said that, I was glad, for a little while yesterday, when the United States was still holding off Brazil in the second half, after one would-be goal by the brilliant Brazilians was not counted, even though U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard - a star with Everton, a football club in England's vaunted Premier League - clearly possessed the entire ball within the goal.
 
I guess that for me, as for Yankee fans who remember Derek Jeter's "home run" against the Baltimore Orioles in the 1996 playoffs, it was a case where a technology that improved the game could wait a little while longer.