I spent a very relaxed afternoon at a friend’s house yesterday, being thoroughly middle-class. There was good food and wine in the kitchen; children were running around underfoot; there was chat and debate amongst the women on the verandah, while inside the menfolk were gathered around the big screen television to watch the England game. By 6pm, it was all over and the post-mortem had begun. England had been sacked out of the World Cup, with a contentious disallowed goal being blamed for their lacklustre performance.
This was not the first disputed decision of this year’s tournament. The USA had already been aggrieved by their own non-goal controversy, and there have been a number of dubious decisions that have seemed inexplicable when viewed with the 20-20 hindsight of an instant replay from a number of angles. Already the pundits are clamouring for FIFA, football’s governing body, to allow video referees to oversee contentious decisions. But they appeal in vain, for FIFA seem to have an aversion to anything that might make referees more accountable.
On the one hand, I can understand FIFA’s thinking: coming to rely on video appeals would undermine the authority of the referee on the pitch, an authority that is already undermined by players and managers in the course of the club season. Giving players the right to appeal every disputed call could lead to a situation where video replays completely usurped the authority of the referee and the linesmen. On the other hand, given the howlers that have been allowed to stand during this tournament, the clarification that a video referee could provide is increasingly compelling.
FIFA fears video referrals because they would change the power dynamic of the game. Don’t waste your time trying to decipher their arguments that the technology is too expensive: they don’t need to develop any new software and global football is already richer than Croesus. What lies at the heart of their refusal to contemplate introducing the new technology is a fear of change, a refusal to recognise that there may be something that can do the job better than the system they have been relying upon until now.
But FIFA are not alone in this. Many businesses hesitate and procrastinate when asked to consider a different way of doing business, or adopting a new type of technology. They are not necessarily refuseniks; they are simply used to doing things in a certain way, and the thought of the disruption caused by a potentially steep learning curve, or the changing shift in power structures within a company make them cautious.
Adopting a new technology doesn’t necessarily mean embracing it while it is still in the white-hot heat of its development. Then again, neither does it mean behaving like a dinosaur and refusing to believe that a technology that has already been widely adopted could never work for you. FIFA need to realise that all the money they get from television sponsors now means that every decision made by its referees can be reviewed and occasionally be highlighted as wrong within seconds by viewers across the globe. Safeguards could be put in place to preserve the authority of on-pitch referees, just as safeguards can be put in place to make sure a new system administrator does not run amok with your new computer system. What remains to be seen is whether FIFA will continue to deny the existence of modern technology, or if it will choose to embrace it.
[Image by Thymiotatsis]