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FIFA living in fear of the iRobots

The International Football Association Board are an odd bunch of people. As are FIFA, UEFA, and seemingly every group of assembled officials with vaguely unspecific and meaningless titles who convene when the moon is full to decide the crucial matters of football governance. The decision this week that the use of any technology in football is a definite no no should come as no no surprise to those who’ve followed the constant ineptitude and resistance to progression of any meaningful kind which has blighted the ruling classes of the sport for decades. Needless lucrative tournament re-branding? – Yes please! Denigration of an historically significant trophy in favour of it’s more lucrative cousin? – Sure. International games in a politically unstable military hot zone? – Why not? Needed and easily applicable help in deciding crucial decisions? – Good god no!

It’s possible that they all got together for a dystopian sci-fi marathon at some point, which required them to watch The Terminator trilogy back to back with iRobot and Blade Runner, because almost nothing else can help to explain their rather archaic reactionary attitude to the implementation of goal line technology. Perhaps they fear this is merely the first step towards a world of robotic referees and cyber officials? In a sort of “this is just how Nazi Germany started” sort of a way. Maybe they think being able to look at a monitor 10 seconds after an incident will unavoidably lead to artificial mechanical legs being attached to injured players? Maybe they think a chip in the ball is only a hop skip and a jump away from a chip in the head? Their insistence that humans must remain in charge of a human game makes their decision a sensible one when talking about the use of video replays which would obviously be analyzed and concluded on by dogs, or Johnny-5, and not by humans of course.

Is it just me or have they all gone completely mad? Did they all get spiked at some lavish FIFA banquet or pointless award ceremony and experience a group hallucination involving the Cybermen and Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey? Is this all just the product of a bad acid trip? It must be, surely?

“Lets keep football as it is” was the cry from Fifa general secretary Jerome Valcke, just as rumors emerged that Sepp Blatter had been asking Field Hockey officials detailed questions about how they successfully got rid of the offside rule.

Keep football as it is? What would change about football with the implementation of the simplest forms of needed tech? Chips in the ball would disrupt nothing, and a quick glance at video monitor – a monitor already available for dug out viewing at most top grounds – would cause less fuss than the inevitable linesman harassing that evolves from such decisions anyway. “Football as it is” is a situation where everyone watching at home, plus all the off pitch officials, managers and coaches at certain grounds, can know exactly whether the ball was in or out within 10 seconds while the person in charge of controlling the actual game lives in a flipping bubble of ignorance.

Almost all managers are behind using tech, almost all fans too – despite often being a notoriously fickle bunch with regards to change of any kind – and unsurprisingly, almost all referees. Why the hell would a referee want to be crucified for not noticing an incredibly difficult thing to notice, inviting scorn and ridicule on himself in the process? No referee – except possibly Graham Poll – wants to attract that kind of publicity, and even Poll himself is fervently for it, making a great case on the BBC last week by claiming he wasn’t surprised given the sheer level of arrogance that exists in the footballing corridors of power. Did you hear that? Go on listen closer…That’s the sound of a nail being hit squarely on the head.

During the same show, Raymond Kennedy, president of the Northern Irish Football Association – who along with the Welsh FA had voted along with FIFA and against technology (the rest of the home nations voted for incidentally) – gave his side of the argument. He claimed that since it would be unfeasible and too expensive to afford every team at every level the luxury of such innovation it was futile to even try it out at all (a line of reasoning that thankfully didn’t hinder NASA during the early days of space exploration or moon travel) and, confirming suspicions that they were all paranoid luddites, “Where would it stop?” Quite Mr. Kennedy, where would it stop? Why this is just how Nazi Germany….oh no, sorry.

Quite what the Welsh and Northern Irish FA’s have to gain from voting against – despite possibly a nice hamper of fruit from Mr.Blatter – is anyone’s guess, and unlikely to trouble them much in their fiercely competitive, globally scrutinized and financially lucrative domestic leagues.

The other good argument of course, is that people like controversy. And this is true. However controversy exists in the main over decision-making. Arguments over whether that was a penalty or a free kick, or indeed a red or a yellow card would still rage in pubs and uncomfortable looking television studios around the world. As would the arguments over diving tolerance and the amount of injury time added. All these are lovely things that no one would dream of getting rid of. They’re opinion-based decisions and as such, depend mostly on opinion, even if that opinion is very obviously wrong Phil Dowd. Offsides shouldn’t be tampered with because it’s highly impractical, but no one is suggesting they should be. The crucial thing about goal line technology – which can simply be a monitor if the elaborate chip in ball tech isn’t reliable (which it is) – is that it isn’t deciding an opinion. It’s confirming a fact. A simple, crucial fundamental necessity of football – Was that a goal or not? It isn’t a decision the referee should have to make, or one he was necessarily tasked with unassailably when the game was invented. He was tasked with it because there was no alternative, and now there is. Nets for example, were brought in precisely to make it easier to clarify if a goal had been scored (and to stop the ball rolling into a stream or a shrub, or the road) no one said it was damaging to rely on string technology in a human game. No one thought it would undermine the referee or lead to an inevitable influx of string related changes. All this is, is an extension of that, not the rise of the machines.

Arsene Wenger and Alex McLeish were quick to register their displeasure at the announcement, and I’d expect more howls of consternation in the coming months as more errors are made, and I’d dread to think what would happen if anything dodgy were to occur at the World Cup. In fact no, I don’t dread it, I’d welcome it in fact, because it’s quite frankly getting absolutely ludicrous now and maybe only such a high profile and dramatic balls up (or across) would shake the arrogance out of these people. Two bored and useless glorified ball boys standing behind the goal line isn’t going to ensure the one crucially important decision that needs to be made, is going to be made any better. Well maybe, by a margin of about 1.1% or something. But I’d need a machine to work that out properly…. Oh God! They were right!. It’s started! Damn you! Damn you all to hell!

You can follow Oscar on twitter here – where you can ask why on earth he’s just referred to himself in the 3rd person.

Article title: FIFA living in fear of the iRobots

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