The argument against video technology

Former US President Bill Clinton (L) and FIFA President Sepp Blatter (R) watch the Group C first round 2010 World Cup football match US versus Algeria on June 23, 2010 at Loftus Verfeld stadium in Tshwane/Pretoria. US won the match 1-0. AFP/Getty Images

John Doyle
The Globe and Mail
Published on Monday, Jun. 28, 2010

Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA, is one of the most powerful men in the world. He’s kind of like the Pope. As the Pope is to Roman Catholicism, Blatter is to soccer. He’s the boss. Unlike the Pope, though, Blatter is not believed to be infallible by everyone who follows soccer.

Mind you, there’s another connection between Blatter and the Pope. Blatter is steadfastly against the use of video technology in soccer. No video replay to determine if a player was offside. No little microchip in the ball to determine if it crossed the line. Arguing against Blatter and those who agree with him is rather like arguing about religious faith. Leave logic out of it. This argument is about intangible things. And as Blatter and others see it, the issue is about the soul of soccer. Does a “soul” exist? Not in a real, tangible way.

But, actually, I’m with Blatter. It’s a faith thing. No point in trying to undermine my faith. I’ll stick with it. I don’t believe in God but I do believe in the soul of soccer

A week before this World Cup started, FIFA’s executive committee met and, afterward, Blatter again dismissed the introduction of video or microchip technology. “Society is not perfect, football is not perfect, it must retain its human face,” he said. In this matter, Blatter is not just adhering to a sort-of religious faith in soccer. He’s taking a fundamentalist view.

Right, then. What’s he talking about? The issue is particularly difficult for followers of North American pro-sports to understand. Games followed here – NHL hockey, NFL football and so forth – are driven by technology these days. A controversial incident happens and the game stops. Somebody looks at the video replay. Viewers watching on TV see the slow-motion replay. A decision is made. The game eventually goes on.

Soccer is not a stop-start game. It flows. As some people, including Blatter, see the matter, it’s bad enough when an already slow-moving, defensive game is interrupted often by fouls and free kicks. To have more stoppage would be unacceptable.

Yes, yes, you might say from the other side of the argument – go tell that to Frank Lampard of England and English supporters who know the ball crossed the line in the game against Germany. Go tell Mexicans who saw that Carlos Tevez was clearly offside when he scored for Argentina. Go tell the Americans who saw that they were obviously denied a good, winning goal against Slovenia.

And there’s part of the problem – the Americans. Blatter, like FIFA chiefs before him, would like soccer to have a bigger presence in the USA. But, really, he doesn’t care that much. In fact he’s proud of the fact that FIFA is a globally powerful organization without the USA being a dominant influence. Very few world bodies can actually say, “Who cares what the Americans think?” FIFA can.

Anti-American and religious fundamentalism. You sure can read a lot into soccer. And I find it interesting that Sepp Blatter talks about the “human” face of the game. As I see it, and I’m not alone, soccer is a brutal game. Not because players kick the bejeebers out of each other on the field. But because it’s like life. As brutal, illogical and transfixing as life itself. In life, cheaters can prosper. All adults know that. Ask anyone in any workplace. Sometimes, but not always, they get their come-uppance. The French did at this World Cup, the team having cheated its way into the tournament with an allowed but clearly illegal, handball used to score against Ireland.

The boss – the referee on the field – makes mistakes. He can be fooled into believing what everyone else knows is no true. That’s life.

To believe in the purity of the game as it is, without the benefits of technology, is to believe that things even out, in the end. It’s to believe that Karma exists. That might seem naive, but to me and Blatter, and the other fundamentalists, it is the fans of North American sports that are naive. They believe, with a childish sense of right and wrong, that justice always prevails. It doesn’t, in life. From the person who is fired because a boss is easily fooled or biased, to the person wrongly convicted of a crime, there is ample evidence that life is hard, cruel. Things might work out in the end. They might not. You want a sport that offers authentic life-lessons? That’s soccer.

Besides, as Blatter himself has pointed out, soccer induces endless arguments and controversies precisely because it is not perfect, it’s human. That’s a key element in its core appeal. Injustice happens, but time passes, the world turns just as the ball does during the game. The whole point of the game is that the ball turns, moves forward. As we must.

Call it illogical, but there’s a reason why video technology is not used in soccer. It’s a religious reason. It’s a faith issue. Follow your own faith, your own religion. Just leave the soul of my game alone, thanks. And who cares what Americans think about it? I don’t.

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