FIFA to World Cup attendees: No replays for you

This article was originally published on Salon on June 28, 2010.

Soccer czars’ ban of in-stadium video replays only postpones reality

The czars of football (or soccer, as we call it in the U.S.), stung repeatedly by poor officiating in the World Cup tournament in South Africa, have come up with a way to mute protests inside the stadiums: pretend the mistakes aren’t happening by blocking any in-stadium video replays.

As the AP reports:

FIFA will censor World Cup match action being shown on giant screens inside the stadium after replays of Argentina’s disputed first goal against Mexico fueled arguments on the pitch.

The proximate event was a goal scored by a player who was offside before he took his shot. A spokesman for FIFA (the governing body of international football), Nicolas Maingot, regretted the “clear mistake.”

What mistake? Why, the video replay, not the actual officiating flub.

Yep, that’ll work. Actually it will, for now, if the majority of people inside the stadium are kept in the dark (assuming they missed the rules violation in the first place), which is the point of this exercise. Meanwhile, in living rooms and bars around the world, everyone else will have a close-up view of the officiating mistakes.

It’s not as if FIFA is alone in making this kind of decision. Salon colleague King Kaufman, who forgets more about professional sports every week than I’ve ever learned, tells me it’s fairly standard practice not to show big-screen replays of close calls in major U.S. professional and collegiate (OK, same thing) sports. No doubt Major League Baseball, which has its own prominent cases of staggeringly bad calls, is watching all this with interest.

But let’s consider where technology is heading to understand why the giant screens inside the stadiums aren’t going to remain the only issue.

Even today, it’s likely that some spectators could have seen the offside video almost immediately on video-equipped mobile phones. By the time the next World Cup rolls around, that will be most of the people inside the stadium. Will FIFA block mobile video access to ensure that official bumbles remain unseen by the people actually attending the events?

I’m sympathetic to FIFA in one respect. Soccer is a game of flow; it would change dramatically if officials repeatedly stopped the matches to review video footage — though correcting egregiously wrong calls on whether a goal had been scored would be an obvious place where it would make sense, as opposed to a missed offside, which happens all the time. But to pretend that the videos don’t exist isn’t going to work much longer.