A DRAMEDY OF ERRORS

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EVER  since Frank Lampard’s shot against Germany hit the cross bar and landed behind the goal line, officiating, not football was caught in the cross hairs of intently watching fans who were cross at the blatant nature of the errors from officials in this world cup and the lack of the use of technology (or common sense) to resolve them. Yes, the US (denied a potential winning goal against Slovenia because of a non existent offside call), the English (whining losers even when they are at their politest best) and the Mexicans (broken after an offside Carlos Tevez goal was allowed to stand) have the right to feel aggrieved at some cross eyed refereeing but will that make FIFA cross the technology chasm? Sarcasm, the governing body has demonstrated plenty with an ‘apology’ to Mexico and England and issuing the anodyne of ‘technology will be discussed in the next meeting’. But how can refereeing standards be raised so that the flavour of a wonderfully volatile world cup is not ruined by talk of inconsistency and partiality?

I am not a luddite and have , at various points of time advocated the use of technology for officiating decisions in sport (most notably, here http://bit.ly/bdMZ5o) but I am tempted now to ignore my own advice. Simply because I have seen technology fail to bring in any spectacular (or even for that matter, marginal) leap in accuracy of decisions in cricket, the game I had written about. In the wake of L’affaire Lampard and the confusion about Carlos, fans are asking for instant replay and a referral system. Ignorant American columnists have even asked that if Baseball can have instant replay, why not football? Well, when you consider the breakneck speed of baseball vis-à-vis football, you probably get the picture. And challenges or referrals have been a lousy failure in cricket because the root cause – sharper umpires wasn’t addressed. Tennis’ challenges work because the technology used to determine line calls (the thing that you can challenge) is pretty precise. Football doesn’t have it as yet. The ‘Lampard Line’ incident, which mirrored what happened in Wembley in 1966 with Geoff Hurst’s shot (in reverse, in what you may call a wicked instance of ‘Football Karma’), has brought forward the gripe – nothing has changed in 44 years!

Goal line calls and offside calls are very tough calls to make (especially offside, since most viewers see replays on a 2D TV screen of a call made by a linesman who is watching the game in 3D) since the angle of vision can make all the difference. And it is pretty impossible to automate these calls. The FIFA president has a point – we need sharper referees. Don’t call FIFA obstinate on technology – it simply has the same kind of apprehension you had when doing your first e-commerce transaction. Meanwhile, concentrate on the game unfolding. There has been some eyecatching football on offer and it gives new fans a world to learn and fascinate about rather than being made to believe that the game is full of errors and cheats.

I have really enjoyed watching the non stop nature of football after being subjected to the mid-over ads during such commerce orgies as the IPL and I don’t want that beauty to be taken away from the game – the beauty of one flash of genius, one pivotal moment proving a turning point. Oh, look! There’s Messi quickly turning and unleashing a shot from the edge of the penalty area, but he looked offside and may be his shot didn’t quite cross the goal line. Fellow fans, what everyone needs (especially the culpable officials) is not technology, but concentration!

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