FIFA Apologizes For Bad World Cup Calls; Are Chipped Balls Next?

Using goal-line technology, the referee receives a signal on his watch when the ball scores. i

Chipped Ball: FIFA is set to review goal-line technology, which signals when the ball crosses the goal line. For a trial during the 2007 Club World Cup in Japan, Adidas developed a soccer ball that transmits information in real time to referees. Adidas/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Adidas/AP
Using goal-line technology, the referee receives a signal on his watch when the ball scores.

Chipped Ball: FIFA is set to review goal-line technology, which signals when the ball crosses the goal line. For a trial during the 2007 Club World Cup in Japan, Adidas developed a soccer ball that transmits information in real time to referees.

Adidas/AP

FIFA President Sepp Blatter has promised to review how technology might help the World Cup improve its games – and avoid the outrage that has followed referees’ blown calls in the 2010 tournament. But that doesn’t mean FIFA will bring video replay to the World Cup.

Instead, Blatter said, “the only principle we’re going to bring back for discussion is goal-line technology.”

And Wednesday, two referees who missed calls in Sunday’s matches — Jorge Larrionda (England vs. Germany) and Roberto Rosetti (Mexico vs. Argentina) were left off FIFA’s list of officials available for the remaining World Cup matches.

Blatter’s announcement came two days after a global soccer audience was shocked by referees missing critical plays in Sunday’s Round of 16 games — the latest examples of questionable officiating in this year's Cup.

In Sunday's early game, England’s Frank Lampard had his potential equalizer against Germany disallowed when officials didn’t notice that his shot went well over the line before being pulled out by the goalie. And Argentina’s win over Mexico was bolstered by a missed offsides call against Carlos Tevez. Instead, Tevez scored to put the Albiceleste up 1-0.

At a press conference and on his Twitter feed, Blatter said that he apologized to the soccer teams of England and Mexico for the blown calls. But his promise to explore goal-line solutions wouldn't have prevented Argentina's non-goal.

And his consoling words are not likely to do much to soothe fans’ outrage over a litany of botched calls at the Cup.

To gauge the anger over these events, consider this: For more than a full day, it was front-page news that FIFA wasn’t publicly chastising the referees involved in those matches and the U.S.-Slovenia game.

In that light, Blatter’s statement – and a hint that new rules might be proposed by the end of this year – could be seen as an effort to calm fans’ nerves and to let soccer’s governing body move on. Skeptics note that Blatter has long stodd against including technology in FIFA matches.

After all, this is the same organization that, after a disallowed Tottenham goal against Manchester United in 2005, had this to say: "FIFA is strongly against the use of video evidence to decide the referees' decisions.”

And despite his concerns for the sport’s integrity, Blatter seemed to have less regret about the mistakes than the fact that they’d been so widely noticed. Addressing the media Tuesday, he said, “I deplore it when you see evident referee mistakes.”

Trying to win over what honestly at this point seems like the rest of the world to his viewpoint, Blatter said, “Still, it’s not the end of the competition, it’s not the end of football. With the denial of the use of technology, we have to accept mistakes.”

Blatter said that “it would be a nonsense to not reopen the file of technology at the business meeting of the International FA Board in July.”

The federation has already used technology to track the ball, in junior competitions and at a Club World Cup in Japan. In each case, the trial was limited to the goal area. In the Japan trial, Adidas implanted a microchip in the ball, which was then triggered sensors buried near the goal line. After passing into the goal, a message confirming a score was sent to the referee’s watch.

After that trial competition, Gunter Pfau of ball-maker Adidas said, “We are very satisfied. No ball was damaged. All the systems have worked."

"We're not trying to change history," Pfau said in 2007. "This technology is for more transparency and to support the referee in making more accurate decisions."

Still, I can just imagine the paranoia and conspiracy theories that might come along with a new system. If you want a good overview of the technology, BBC tech reporter Daniel Emery has a nice writeup of the options out there, from radio-frequency chips to a camera setup like Wimbledon’s Hawk-Eye system.

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