This piece, which was originally intended for the Goal Post, has inadvertently confirmed one of the oldest stereotypes about The New Republic. As media critic Brendan Nyhan describes it, TNR has a tendency to elevate “the ‘surprising’ and ‘counter-intuitive’ article above all else.” Well, this was from the actual rejection email I got from a junior editor there: “Talked to the higher ups and I think they’ll pass on this one. I guess not quite as counter-intuitive as they look for.” Disappointing, but also a bit hilarious.
I hope you find it more worthwhile. If so, you can let me know in the comments below.
Imagine for a moment that an executive order made the use of closed caption television in the detection or prosecution of crimes illegal. Police officers could only relying on sleuthing skills and serendipitous timing to catch bank robbers or vandals in the act. With hours of incriminating video and hundreds of unpunished criminals, video of unsolved crimes would quickly go viral, provoking the outrage of citizens at the odd handicap the president had imposed on their protectors. “We can see the video, why can’t the police?” the public would demand to know.
Soccer fans are again asking much the same question of Fifa. Why are referees–the lawmen with the flags and whistles and power to clean up the game–unable to use the video replay technology available to every other fan? As the New York Times reports, replay is not only available to home viewing audiences, Fifa also uses it “to entertain fans in the stadiums here in South Africa. Large screens show replays right after a near miss or a stunning goal (of which there have been fewer here per game than any tournament in history). But while entertainment of fans is an acceptable use of video, it is not used to enlighten them or to help the referees.”
From legitimate goals taken away to unjust cards being awarded, in the 2010 World Cup the referees have come off looking hamstrung and hapless. This is largely due to the fact that they do not have access to video replay. With the aide of dozens of camera angles and the magic of slow motion, fans review every tipped shot and every flailing fall with much more than just the benefit of 20/20 eyesight. The missed goals, bad calls, egregious dives are then endlessly replayed and mocked on YouTube.
In the soccer world, the World Cup is like a bank storing the hopes and dreams of millions of fans. How troubling then for soccer fans to see Germany’s goalie Manuel Neuer rob England of a clear goal or Italy’s Daniele De Rossi dive his way into a penalty kick against New Zealand. Neuer and De Rossi are bank robbers undetected by the referee security guards and unpunished by the Fifa officials with access to the vault’s closed caption footage.
The outrage over referee errors reached a crescendo when Frank Lampard was denied what should have been a tying goal against Germany. As a result, Fifa President Sepp Blatter has bowed to pressure from fans and indicated that the World Cup’s governing body will reconsider the use of technology on the pitch, but only to a very limited extent. “The only principle we are going to bring back for discussion is goal-line technology,” he told the media yesterday.
That does not go far enough. In a sport where dozens of camera angles eliminate much of the mystery from the game play, Fifa must own up to the reality of the surveillance state in which soccer is now played. They must do whatever is necessary to bring the refereeing closer to the technically enhanced level enjoyed by fans watching the games. The refs in this World Cup may be no worse than in past years, but now their well documented shortcomings are too glaring to be ignored.
Better officiating, even if delivered post facto, would reduce diving, improve the quality of game play, and restore the waning trust fans have in the regulation of soccer. While Blatter is rightly wary of interrupting games for an American football-style video challenges, some measure of justice can be apportioned after the game. Victimized players like Brazil’s Kaka, who received his second yellow card after a light touch sent the Ivory Coast’s Abdelkader Keita writhing to the ground, should have unjust cards rescinded and punishment redistributed to players guilty of “simulation.” Unfortunately, goals scored from an ill-deserved penalty kick cannot be taken away, but the players whose theatrics lead to the bad call should be punished.
This is not without precedent: After Arsenal’s Eduardo da Silva took a particularly blatant dive in the Uefa Champions League, the tournament’s directors suspended him for the following two games. Although da Silva’s punishment was overturned after an appeal from Arsenal, the review panel used in making the decision still provides a good example of how future diving incidents can be addressed. Blatter would be wise to take note, and improve upon, of Uefa hesitant first step.
With the notorious divers from Italy and Portugal now out of the tournament, it is possible that this tournament could conclude without having the outcome of a major match decided by a “simulated” foul. But as any Kiwi fan can tell you, even a group game sullied by diving can be a major disappointment. Just because Fifa might escape this World Cup without another Jurgen Klinsmann-type embarrassment, does not mean that soccer can afford to continue to resist the replay.