SEE if you know the answer to these quiz questions:
* What is a multi-billion dollar global industry where frequent human errors are tolerated, even though there is loads of technology to prevent them?
* What is one field of human endeavour where cheating – in front of millions worldwide – is common? And continues with little apparent repentance?
* What is one international governing body which has suffered repeated allegations of corruption in the past few years?
The answers to all these questions is, of course, football.
In the current World Cup, there have been more than enough controversies to, umm, sink our teeth into. Most of them stem from dubious referee decisions, but the real question is: are they linked to the bigger controversies in Fifa, football’s world governing body?
The solution to the on-field disputes is obvious: referees need some help from video replays. Why are they NOT allowed to see what several TV cameras – and the rest of the world – have seen?
If tennis, basketball, badminton, cricket, rugby, American football, ice hockey, baseball, athletics and horse racing all use some form of instant replay, what is stopping the world’s most popular sport from doing so?
To adapt the adage, justice must not only be done, but be “seen” to be done – it is grossly unrealistic and unfair to expect the human eye (of one referee and his assistants occasionally) to be able to “see” every move in every nano-second of a fast and furious game.
In fact, this is also acknowledged by Fifa – which is precisely why video replays were used to determine whether Uruguay’s Luis Suarez had attempted cannibalism on his Italian opponent recently. For years, Fifa has also been strangely and stubbornly against no-brainer basics such as goal line technology, until global embarrassment (after the denial of a clear goal by England against Germany at the 2010 World Cup) forced its adoption at this year’s event.
If video replays are allowed to judge Suarez shark attacks and balls crossing a line, why are they disallowed for other serious situations – such as penalties, red cards and off-sides during goals – where teams face, in footballing soap opera terms, life or death?
It was apparent to people around the world that Arjen Robben, the mercurial Dutch player, was aiming for an Academy Award for Best Amateur Dramatist when he did a fake dive to get the crucial game-winning penalty in the game against Mexico. In fact, after the game, Robben himself even confessed to diving!
He has been accused of doing the same for years, even at club level. While Suarez was punished severely with a lengthy ban for his (repeated) canine capers, Fifa has said that Robben’s multiple and even self-admitted faking of fouls “did not fulfil” their criteria for taking (retrospective) action.
Why? Are they saying that biting cannot be tolerated, but cheating during the game is an “accepted” part of football? Or because Robben is a star player and banning him would affect global TV ratings (and advertising revenue) for Fifa?
Football is supposed to offer role models for kids. But what are the “real” lessons here? That if you cheat – in the right way, without getting caught – then you will win?
Even Chelsea manager José Mourinho, the Master Moaner against referees when his team loses, recently commented that Robben can use his speedy skills wrongly to “try to get a free kick or penalty”. Hence, he added, it was important to have video replays. “If you have technology, you can have a fourth official watching on the video,” he said. “So I think the referee should also be happy to have the chance ... to clear every doubt and the chance to make the right decision ...”
It has not just been about Robben and Suarez. This World Cup has also been tarnished by other incidents, for instance, two of Mexico’s goals against Cameroon, and one for Bosnia Herzegovina against Nigeria were wrongly disallowed for offside. And then we had Freddie Mercury, oh sorry, I mean Fred, the clumsiest Brazilian striker I’ve ever seen, faking a fall against Croatia and getting a totally undeserved penalty.
The usual excuses trotted out by Fifa for not using video replays are that it will “disrupt the flow of the game” and “undermine the referee’s authority”. Oh, I suppose they mean that such “flow” and “authority” are promoted when players crowd menacingly round a referee for five minutes to protest a controversial decision? Comparing this to badminton, I was very happy that video replays were used during the Thomas Cup final between Malaysia and Japan – because, unlike previous tournaments, the linesmen could not influence decisions with any possible personal bias.
Speaking of compromised officials, when Asian betting syndicates hold hundreds of millions of dollars, we have to ask: what is the price to influence a single referee? RM10,000? RM100,000? RM1mil?
The convicted Singaporean match fixer, Wilson Raj Perumal, has admitted bribing corrupt officials and players, and his “achievements” include helping Honduras and Nigeria qualify for the 2010 World Cup (The Guardian, bit.ly/1kh5ga3).
During the 2002 World Cup match between co-host South Korea and Italy, the Ecuadorian referee Byron Moreno made not one, but a series of dubious calls against the Europeans, including a penalty, a sending off, and a disallowed goal. Italy lost 1-2, leaving fans speculating about a plot to keep the co-hosts in the tournament. In 2011, Moreno was sentenced to two years in prison after being caught trying to smuggle heroin into the United States ...
The need for impartial video evidence for football is painfully obvious. An incident that can be seen on TV by millions around the world should also be seen by one man – the referee. He should not be allowed to, as we Malaysians joke, “close one eye” to certain fouls ... That’s what accountability and transparency are all about.
Unfortunately, such values are under scrutiny at the highest levels of football management. In particular, many are questioning why Fifa awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, and how footballers will be humanly able to play properly (and safely) when summer temperatures there hit 50°C.
Britain’s Sunday Times recently published thousands of leaked documents revealing that former Fifa executive committee member, Mohamed Hammam paid out more than US$5mil (RM16mil) to induce delegates to support Qatar’s bid. In 2011, Hammam himself was suspended by Fifa for bribing delegates, just oh-what-a-coincidence as he was mounting a challenge to Sepp Blatter for the Fifa president’s post.
Meanwhile the drama continues, like some B-grade afternoon soap opera. Blatter has tried to divert the debate on the Qatar corruption allegations by calling them “discrimination and racism”. This is funny, since that defence is usually used by blacks or Asians while Blatter is a Swiss national who’s Toblerone white.
What interests are Fifa defending? As Simon Jenkins wrote in The Guardian newspaper (bit.ly/1qpWzAb), when South Africa “won” the rights to the 2010 World Cup, it was promised an “economic bonanza” by Fifa. It spent US$3bil (RM9.6bil) on stadiums and related infrastructure and made an estimated return of US$330mil (RM960 mil) in tourism and other income. Fifa, meanwhile, walked off with US$3.5bil (RM11.2bil) in profits from TV and sponsorship fees, with no thought of giving back to South Africa.
“It was nothing short of grand larceny,” lamented Jenkins.
Brazil has spent US$11.5bil (RM37bil) of taxpayer’s money to subsidise the World Cup, decreasing much-needed funding for education, health and poverty alleviation. And that’s why thousands of Brazilians, many too poor to afford even a single game ticket, have been in the streets protesting the misuse of funds – while you-know-who walks away with billions in profits again.
“(Fifa is) ugly and people need to know it,” said former Argentina star Diego Maradona, on June 15. “Fifa today is a multinational that is eating up the ball. Countries can’t do anything against them.”
And so the circus called football rolls on. It’s hard to reform Fifa, an organisation that answers to nobody but itself. But we can at least demand some transparency – literally – in the way games are decided on the field.
And video replays are the best place to start.
- The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.