The past struggle was goal-line technology in soccer. However, the struggle has turned towards implementing video referees and instant replay within the game. Every other modern sport has something along these lines. Basketball uses it for buzzer beaters and brawls. Tennis uses it for determining whether the ball landed in bounds or not. NASCAR uses it for photo finishes and race positioning. And in football, its used for every call. Coaches can challenge the referee’s decision using an instant replay video as well as to ensure the team scored. In all of these cases, video referees have been successful, but why hasn’t it been implemented in soccer?
There are two major criticisms from fans about video referees: the flow of the game and its naturalness. With the first issue, fans are worried that the game will suffer unnecessary pauses after goals are scored or controversial fouls. As a result, the pace of the game would slow down. Critical time would be cut out of the match. However, time is usually wasted in one form or another during these situations. Usually when a goal is scored, the scoring team celebrates for a good minute or so. During this time, the referee could be reviewing the video. The game isn’t progressing either way, so why not use the time to ensure a goal was actually scored? Additionally, when a controversial foul is committed, players crowd the referee to try to push their perspective. Instead of the players crowding the referee – which usually wastes 2 or 3 minutes – the referee could review the footage, which will likely take a minute at most, to ensure the correct decision was made. Either way, there would be no additional time wasted by reviewing the video footage.
The other argument about the game’s “naturalness” is a bit more unusual. This argument revolves around how the game of soccer relies heavily on the human element of referees. Critics, fans, players, and managers all enjoy debating the referee’s calls. But why? Shouldn’t we strive to ensure that the rules of the game are enforced as correctly as possible? I don’t see much of an argument for the naturalness besides “it lets me/my team get away with more.” This is the viewpoint of some managers, such as Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane, who called video referees as a source of confusion during a trial run at the last FIFA Club World Cup. However, this is the same Zinedine Zidane who does not have the cleanest game history: in the 2006 FIFA World Cup Final, he was sent off after head-butting Italian player Marco Materazzi. If video referees existed when Zidane was still a player, it is likely that he would’ve suffered harsher punishments for the fouls that he committed. Video referees could have additionally prevented very controversial goals such as Mardona’s “Hand of God” at the 1986 World Cup.
The opposing side doesn’t have a strong argument opposed to video referees, so why aren’t they used heavily? The people in power, those on FIFA and the IFAB, are conservative. They do not want to see drastic changes to the game. As a result, it will take a drastic event – similar to the 2010 World Cup incident – to push a large scale change in favor of them. As a former soccer referee, soccer needs to embrace technology to ensure a more correct, fair, and fun game for all involved. Next week, I’ll take a look at the sabermetric revolution in soccer and other sports.