Sunday June 10, 2012
Football video justice
TEH TARIK By ANDREW SIA
THERE is probably no other field of human endeavour in which one man is allowed to cheat one billion people – live on TV – and get away with it, except on the football field.
Imagine: within 10 seconds, a global audience can watch, say, Portugal’s best amateur dramatist wriggling on the ground with fake agony. But somehow just one man “saw” that he had been fouled, and so a penalty kick is given.
As the Euro football championship gets underway, this is the time to ask why referees are not allowed to see what the rest of the world can. Or more precisely, why are referees barred from looking at instant video replays when their human eyes did not clearly catch some fast and furious action 100 metres away from them?
Tennis, basketball, cricket, rugby, American football, ice hockey, baseball, athletics, horse racing and even rodeo bull riding all use some form of instant replay. But not the world’s most popular sport.
In this hi-tech age, it is perplexing that FIFA, football’s world governing body, refuses to allow referees to use this simple tool. The usual reasons trotted out are that it would “undermine the authority” of referees and “disrupt the flow” of a match.
Yet this does not hold water as video replays can be limited only to important decisions such as penalties, goals and red cards. In any case, games are constantly interrupted (and referees questioned) anyway when contentious decisions are made, sometimes leading to on-pitch brawls. All this is far from The Beautiful Game.
When France knocked out Ireland to qualify for the 2010 World Cup through Thierry Henry’s handball, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger forcefully criticised the failure to introduce video technology, telling the BBC, “We cannot accept that in our sport and we have to do something about it just for the sense of justice.”
At the very least, having video replays will spare us the spectacle of England wailing about another “moral victory” by blaming the referee when they lose. Not to mention similar monthly moaning by Real Madrid’s Jose Mourinho or Manchester United’s Alex Ferguson.
On a more serious note, it would stop conspiracy theorists from speculating that somebody high up favoured France over Ireland because of its larger TV audience (and hence commercial value) for the World Cup.
But then again, others say there is no greater pleasure in life than tearing down a referee after a game over glasses of teh tarik. But we have to decide, is football a sport or a soap opera? We want to see real action, not histrionics. So can we have our game back please?
If football were truly a democratic “people’s sport”, surely it should embrace the values of fair play, accountability and, literally, transparency via video replays. The opposite of democracy is dictatorship, and unfortunately, investing so much power in one man (autocrats are always male right?) opens the door to corruption.
Football has become a multi-bullion dollar industry but one factor pushing Malaysian fans to choose English football as the local variety languishes has been the series of home-grown scandals over the years.
Just two weeks ago, Malaysian referee Shokri Nor was charged by Singapore’s Corrupt Practices Investigations Bureau (CPIB) for accepting a RM15,000 bribe to fix a Super League match played in the republic. And in April, Zhang Jianqiang, the former director of China’s referee committee was jailed 12 years for taking bribes of 2.73mil yuan (RM1.4mil) to fix matches.
But surely, this sort of thing is limited to Asian nations you say? Not so. Over half the professional teams in Italy are now under investigation for corruption, as are three of Turkey’s top four clubs. After the last Euros in 2008, German magazine Der Spiegel revealed how the “virus” of illegal bookies from South-East Asia and China had begun affecting European matches, “thanks” to the Internet, which has revolutionised the global betting industry.
Then there is The Fix, a book which presents explosive evidence that some of the highest-level matches, including the Euros and World Cup, may have been manipulated. Investigative journalist Declan Hill came face-to-face with the multi-billion dollar illegal Asian gambling industry, meeting “godfathers” who could predict European match scores before they were played.
Sadly, the rot seems to seep right up to the top. In 2010, the BBC and Sunday Times revealed how FIFA executive committee members were offering to sell their votes for rights to host future World Cups.
Last year, Mohamed Hammam who was in charge of Asian football, was set to challenge Sepp Blatter for the FIFA president’s post. Then its ethics committee suspended Hammam (and his ally Jack Warner) on claims that they had paid certain delegates US$40,000 (RM125,000) each to vote for him in the election. Well, perhaps football is a soap opera after all!
FIFA claims it is cleaning up its act. But with all these allegations of red card fouls in high places, it is even more crucial to minimise the possibility of corruption on the field. It seems much harder to bribe footballers who earn £200,000 (RM1mil) a week, but referees whose day jobs are as modest electricians or teachers might be more easily tempted.
Unfortunately, they appear to be the weakest link in ensuring a fair game and it’s high time that impartial instant replays are used in important tournaments. Indeed, using video evidence will give fresh meaning to the age-old motto: Justice must not only be done, but be SEEN to be done.
■ Teh Tarik is written by this writer when something brews in his head. It is also often drunk while watching football games at mamak stalls.