Editorial: Football chief must embrace technology

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Sepp Blatter is used to defending the indefensible. In 1981, as Fifa's general secretary, he brushed aside complaints that ordering New Zealand to play a World Cup qualification knock-out match against China in Singapore gave the Chinese an unfair advantage.

So palpable was the benefit of a highly partisan crowd that it could only be assumed that soccer's governors wanted China to appear in the World Cup finals as part of their global masterplan. Almost 30 years on, and now as president of Fifa, Mr Blatter has been at it again.

Three months before the World Cup and contrary to any measure of good sense, he rejected the use of technology to determine if a legitimate goal had been scored.

The episode involving the All Whites had no repercussions. New Zealand beat China and, in any event, was too small for its grievance to create waves at Fifa's top table.

This week, however, Mr Blatter's foolishness finally blew up in his face. Both England and Mexico fell victim to mistakes by officials in their second-round matches.

These could, quite easily, have been avoided by the use of technology. England had a particular right to feel outraged.

Not only was Frank Lampard's disallowed goal clearly over the line but the error came at a crucial time. Probably, England would still have been eliminated, but two quick goals just before the break and a 2-2 half-time score would surely have unnerved some in the young German team.

Mr Blatter's stand on technology highlighted an air of superiority that pervades soccer. Because it is the world's favourite game, there seems to be a belief that it is problem-free and has no need to heed lessons from other sports.

The arguments against technology wheeled out by Mr Blatter were precisely those mounted by people who did not want to see it in the likes of tennis, rugby and cricket. It would slow the game down, or refereeing mistakes were part of the game's rich tapestry and a thing that fans liked to debate.

Such sentiments looked extremely foolish almost as soon as technology was introduced in other sports.

Similarly, Fifa has done virtually nothing to stamp out the feigned injuries and diving that are staining yet another World Cup. Never mind that other sports have imposed far more effective punishment regimes, which eliminate much of this deplorable activity.

Or that some demand, and achieve, a high degree of integrity from their players.

Mr Blatter has now apologised to England and Mexico, and says Fifa will reopen the debate on technology.

Clearly, England's clout in the game was too much for even the Fifa president to ignore. Now, he must also concede that controversy over decisions by officials detracts from any game, and especially one so enmeshed in national pride as soccer.

Other examples of delusion have also been highlighted over the past week. The way that England fell short seems to puzzle many in the game.

Few make the obvious connection with a Premier League chock-full of foreign players. It is a challenge to find an English name on some Arsenal team sheets. This cannot be aiding the development of English players. The same applies in Italy, another World Cup failure. It boasts Europe's champion club, yet Inter Milan has become Italian only in its location.

Again, other sports have confronted this problem. Several English sports have, previously, been enfeebled by the influx of foreigners into their domestic competitions.

The exigencies of professionalism notwithstanding, some have acted to stem this flow. Others have enlisted some of these players, for example Kevin Pietersen and Shontayne Hape.

Again, soccer could learn. Sadly, it shows little inclination to do so.

The simplest and most logical of changes occur only after episodes of truly outlandish proportion.

- NZ Herald

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