No joy in Jabulani

I am about to do something I have never done before, in all my years of writing this little column: Knowingly repeat myself.

I am about to do something I have never done before, in all my years of writing this little column: Knowingly repeat myself.

What I am going to repeat is my lament of four years ago about how the FIFA organization that heads up the World Cup of soccer keeps on deploying innovative high tech in an area where it isn’t needed, and ignores using established, effective, low-tech technologies where they really are needed.

Back in the summer of 2006, I wrote a column grousing about all the time and energy wasted around the new Adidas “Teamgeist” soccer ball, specially designed for the World Cup in Germany.

It was supposed to be a high-tech solution to the increasingly chronic shortage of goals in the World Cup games.

The Teamgeist ball was supposed to be livelier, friendlier to shot-takers, and more of a challenge to shot-stoppers.

The result was a lot of controversy about the ball’s performance, followed by an impact on scoring that was either null or perhaps even negative.

The average goals per game for the 2006 tournament came out at a paltry 2.3, down from 2.5 in 2002, which in turn was down from 2.7 in 1998.

Undeterred by such flagrant lack of success, FIFA ordered up the Adidas even-more-high-tech “Jabulani” ball for this year’s tournament, occasioning pretty much the same chorus of complaints and controversies.

And once again, as we now move into the quarter finals, the impact of all this high-tech, high-cost innovation appears to be null at best, and arguably negative.

The current goals per game average currently stands at 2.2; and, based on some of the goalless or one-goal wonders that we have so far witnessed in the second round, is not likely to increase significantly over the last dozen games remaining.

So FIFA is frittering away money and attention on something that has nothing to do with the deteriorating quality of play in the World Cup – the ball – while ignoring the low-tech solution readily available to address the two problems that really do account for that deterioration: bad refereeing and scot-free cheating.

In the USA-Slovenia game, and again in the England-Germany game, we saw clearly valid goals disallowed by incompetent referees.

In the Argentina-Mexico game, the referee allowed a goal against Mexico that was obviously offside.

In the Brazil-Ivory Coast game, Brazilian superstar Kaka was sent off by the referee for supposedly injuring an Ivory Coast player who, as every TV viewer in the world could plainly see, was shamelessly faking injury to the face, when the innocuous contact involved had been nowhere near it.

Granted, FIFA had the good sense to send most of those game-wrecking referees home early from the games, but the damage they did remains unaltered.

That this goes on when video replay technology is now so sophisticated, cheap, and widely available defies all reason.

FIFA’s argument that automatic video review of goals either scored or disallowed would break up the flow of the game is simply fatuous.

First of all, the flow of the game is interrupted by a goal scored, anyway, by all the show-boating and theatrics of the scoring team; and it is equally interrupted by all the operatic displays of agony and disbelief when a goal is disallowed.

Video evidence revisiting the correctness of a referee’s ruling on a goal could easily be assessed and ruled on long before the ham-acting time of the players had run down.

Even FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, who up to now has been a paragon of obtuseness, has acknowledged that it is time the organization rethinks its stand on video replay.

I would go farther and advocate a second use of video replay to address the other problem wrecking the quality of play and the general reputation of the World Cup: the diving, the cheating and the faking.

As I did four years ago, I still advocate that FIFA should institute a post-game video review at the end of each World Cup game, with a group of qualified referees, to revisit calls or non-calls made by the referee on the field.

Players like Kaka, who have been unjustly red or yellow carded, should have those cards revoked; cheaters like Louis Fabiano of Brazil, who twice used his hands to control a ball in scoring a goal, should have the appropriate red card issued to him retroactively; fakers like Kader Keita of the Ivory Coast should have at least yellow cards issued to them retroactively for faking injury.

This kind of post-game refereeing would not overturn the actual results of a game, of course; that result has to remain in the hands of the referee on the field.

Otherwise the game is just a preamble to the video replay, and that would suck the life out of the experience.

But this approach would go a long way towards returning some credibility to FIFA refereeing, and would serve as a deterrent to players who right now feel very much at ease cheating and faking, even with the whole world watching.

So there you have it. I said it once (in 2006), and now I’ve said it again: Forget the ball, FIFA, fix your refereeing.

But I guess I will have to keep repeating myself in this column as long as FIFA keeps repeating itself in its screwed-up management of what should be the apotheosis of the world’s most beautiful game.

Rick Steele is a technology

junkie who lives in Whitehorse.

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