No Replay In Soccer: Sepp Blatter, Hold Strong!

Hold the line, Sepp. Don’t buckle under the pressure, which now is intense and hot, but soon will be slack and not even tepid. We do not need to let replay “technology”—the word that everybody now favors—into the beautiful game.

Yes, the referees missed awarding a lackluster England a goal against Germany. We know this because the replay—in this case—was clear. It isn’t always clear, of course. But here, we could see it and we know that, at least in the eyes of many Germans, a weird sort of justice was done.

Justice? Consider: in the Cup final in 1966, England’s Geoff Hurst shot and hit the (West) German crossbar. The ball bounced. Over the line, claimed the English. Before the line, said the Germans. The referees agreed with England, who went on to win 4-2.

So, because of Sunday, in the minds of many German fans anyway, the score is now even: one bad goal equals another.

Fabio Capello Weeps Once More
Did Sunday’s un-awarded goal change the outcome? Fabio Capello assumed the counterfactual: had Lampard’s goal counted, England, he said, could have at least drawn. But many viewers, and less passionate assessors, took the opposite view: England did not play well over four games and were on their way home no matter what. To prove their point, we may merely say, “Wayne Rooney?”

Ah, but even if you buy that, we must still account for the missed offsides call against Argentina, when Carlos Tevez headed in a Messi pass. Here’s the strange thing about this: played live, it did look like a legitimate goal. But even when played in “slo-mo”, and even though our brains are telling us that Tevez is offside, it still doesn’t appear like he was offside, the play was that chaotic.

Again the counterfactual: would Mexico have won had that goal been disallowed? Doubtful at best. Although—and this has nothing to do with the issue at hand—Argentina’s goaltender Sergio Romero stinks, and that’s putting it nicely. Every shot on goal Mexico made—and there just weren’t enough—flummoxed the poor man. Klose, Podolski, and the rest of the German side are going to eat him alive Saturday.

The view of some old fogies is that imperfections are part of the game. Bad calls pass into lore and, like it or not, increase interest in the game. Who realizes this better than Maradona? Everybody who knows about Maradona’s divine intervention, raise their hands. This is a story, rich in detail and drama, that will never be forgotten.

The slippery slope? Let video “technology” in for “disputed” goals—which, by definition, means a set of rules must be generated to describe what “disputed” implies—and soon we will have to have it for “controversial” offsides, and then for “flagrant, but missed” fouls. And since it will take minutes—tick, tick, tick….—-to review each of these calls—a farcical spectacle in which a referee sticks his head under a blanket to play and re-play and re-re-play a tape—some bright boy will think, “Aha! Why let those minutes just pass by wasted? Why not insert a short commercial?”

And if you allow commercials, why not stick in a few times outs? After all, ninety minutes is a long time to run. Those poor fellows get awfully tired. And think about the children! I don’t know how, but somebody will figure how the uninterrupted flow of today’s game “might” lead to injury, trauma, etc., etc.

You don’t feel the force of the slippery slope? Somewhat blind to history are we? Well, never mind, and instead ponder this one. The game played today can be compared to the game played yesterday. We can count the number of goals Messi scores (if he does) with those scored by his boss. But introduce “technology” and then that comparison forever after has an asterisk.

Like it or not—and I do not—any change in the rules changes the game in ways both predictable and unpredictable. Nobody can effectively argue the opposite. We must not allow soccer to degrade into, say, what American football has become: in which grown men prance up to a field and toss little red hankies at the referees to show their displeasure. How manly!

One thing oft forgotten is that technology changes, usually by improving. The laser beams of today are not the same as they were last year. The corollary is that the technology now is imperfect. That means that there is a small, but far from zero, chance that the “technology” will provide ambiguous—or even false—information. Plus, the information provided a year from now will be different than that provided now. This ensures that the game constantly changes to adapt.

There is not enough respect for tradition; people forget the reason the game is being played. But Sepp Blatter—God bless him—has not.


  1. eko432

    “The slippery slope? Let video “technology” in for “disputed” goals—which, by definition, means a set of rules must be generated to describe what “disputed” implies—and soon we will have to have it for “controversial” offsides, and then for “flagrant, but missed” fouls.”

    Just combine the new ideas for a dedicated penalty area ref (something that FIFA is looking at right now) with video technology in important games (WC, etc.). The PA ref can call the attention of the main ref when needed, and that should be ok.

    Of course, there might be a destructive tech-based slippery slope, but as there are few or no ulterior motives, etc. in play, I doubt it. Letting some more tech in is preferable to having games effectively ruined or degraded for both sides by bad critical calls.

  2. Rob

    Sorry William, both instances were quite clear in real-time and – the off-side especially – examples of the arrogance of officials who once they have made a decision will not allow themselves to reconsider.

    While I admit that once a player has gone past the goalkeeper it can be confusing for officials to judge if there are one or two defenders between an attaking player and the dead-ball line, Tevez was clearly beyond both of these and as he actually played the ball, he was only passed by one of the defenders. The only confusion was whether he played the ball and thus whether, although he was off-side he was not interfering with play. This was less easy for the linesman to see – right up until he began claiming the goal. Why the linesman should not then raise his flag was completely inexplicable.

    In these two cases, replays should not have been needed, but they do raise the point that the only people still relying on their primary senses are the officials and this is the crux of the matter.

    While I agree with you – in principle – about the use of replays potentially slowing the flow of play, the viewing of sport has now become so high quality that everyone can see mistakes made by officials – in almost real time (witness the crowd reaction in the stadium to the replays of the Argentina goal). This is taking away from the authority of the officials and encouraging the arguing of players, together with increasing the sense of unfairness felt by players and fans. That this can turn people off the sport is a real danger – and is already giving the “beautiful game” an ugly side.

    Furthermore, there are potential legal issues to consider: I don’t know how much you watched of the English Premier League last year, but the whole premiership came down to three refereeing decisions in the two games between Chelsea and Manchester United. When such a lot rests on officials and pretty much everyone watching can see their decisions in detail, the possibility for a lawsuit over the impact of incorrect decisions is raised. West Ham were successfully sued over their use of an ineligible player (in an interesting coincidence, it was Carlos Tevez) when a judge considered that his impact alone had kept the team in the Premier League and cost the team which were relegated over 20 million pounds in lost revenue.

    I am not sure there is an ideal answer to this issue, but if even the extra officials on the goal line (which have been used in the European Champions League this season) had been used in this tournament, we would already have seen the what impact an equalising goal would have had on the English team. Yes, the two German goals in the second half were well taken, but they were a direct result of the English team having to pressure for an equaliser and commit defenders into attacking roles. The effect on the players’ motivation is speculative (but changes of momentum in sports games is observed on a regular basis and could be considered in this case), but the effect on tactics is quite real.

    Football is one of those games where the result is not based on how well a team plays for 90 minutes, but how many goals they score – we should at least try to to get that right!


  3. Ken

    Hmmm….this slippery slope thing seems a bit contrived relative to soccer (or “football” depending on one’s perspective).

    Very very few goals are scored over a long period comprising a game. A minority of those goals are disputed (ditto for other events elsewhere on the field). Thus, not much time will be spent reviewing video…and some significant percentage of the disputed calls will be determined to be correct anyway…so the ultimate outcome won’t be affected much.

    But in some cases it may be substantial. And in some even smaller proportion of cases it will offset corruption (e.g. referee blows a close play to collect a payoff), and/or player manipulation (anybody who’s played contact sports knows that very often a referee’s perspective is such that an incidental contact can be exaggerated, by the “victim” player to induce a false penalty on the “offending” player — many of us had coaches that taught us just how to pull this off when the opportunity presented itself).

    From a player’s perspective the suspicion (thru knowledge) of a biased referee is very demoralizing — and that’s inevitable when a close call is called incorrectly. The demoralizing effect of that perception (right or wrong) is probably quantifiable if the proper survey data were available & analyzed.

    Benchmark: Ice Hockey. I’ve yet to hear anybody complain that reviews have impacted the quality of play, etc. etc. And the waiting suspense for a review & the decision announcement is a thrill unto itself.

    Benchmark: US Football. On occasion video review has determined if a mandatory facemasking penalty will be the greater or lessor of the options (5-15 yards) by clearly showing if the contact was incidental & minor or intentional & dangerous.

    Ultimately, players & fans want to have the play & outcome grounded in reality — and their reality is a bit different from the referee’s. In those few disputed calls in which the referee’s perspectve was flawed & the decision was clearly wrong, player & fan enjoyment is diminished — and that’s fundamentally why these games are played. Fans & players want the reaity of reality–not limited so some guy wearing a striped shirt’s particular, and flawed, perspective. Besides, just about everybody interested will see the replay later & spend time discussing it — so why not bring that into the game? Again, Ice Hockey has it figured out–and nobody’s complaining about its use there.

  4. Don

    Rather than instant replay, I think they should just take a look at the referee’s bank account once in a while.

  5. Doug

    Yes, we wouldn’t want soccer officiating to suffer the fate of police investigating, which has simply been ruined by fingerprints, DNA and surveillance cameras.

  6. Rich

    The application of technology to disputed line calls in tennis seems to have worked well at Wimbledon. Even becoming a part of the event.

  7. Ron C

    Rationality does not apply to emotional decisions.

    Did you watch the Stanley Cup finals this year? (Oh, my Blackhawks won, if you weren’t watching). They have replay for goals that are questionable – the official rulebook says, in rule 78.6 (Video Review): “When a team scores an apparent goal that is not seen by the on-ice officials and play continues, the play shall be reviewed by the Video Goal Judge at the next stoppage of play.” (see

    There are more logistics in the rule itself, but in practice it means that at the next stoppage of play (for whatever reason – the referee thinks it may be a goal, the whistle blows, the puck goes out of play, the other team scores a goal, …) the Video Goal Judge will review whatever video is available and determine if it is a legal goal (as defined in rule 78.4, and opposed to that defined in rule 78.5 “Disallowed Goals”).

    During the Stanley Cup finals, there where several apparent goals that needed video review. It almost seemed to be a reasonable amount – the puck is small, the goal is small, it moves extremely fast and can be in and out before the referee (or Goal Judge) sees it. Even then, there weren’t that many – maybe 3 or 4 out of 18 hours (and out of ~50 actual goals), and only 1 that I can remember was overturned.

    Were the NHL rule in play during the World Cup, the number of reviews due to this rule would be even lower – the goal/game rate is less, the physical size of everything leads to an easier call, and it doesn’t seem at all common. I don’t recall seeing any other disputed calls during the 50 or so games of the tournament. That is nominally 1 replay every 100 hours – not so bad, really.


  8. JH

    Slippery slope? How about robot refs? No instant replay needed. Oh, no, then those games would probably become boring, you know, no boo-hoos to human referees. I like “boo-hoos” because they sort of balance out the hilarious, orgasmic “yeses” throughout a game.

  9. Rule #44. Never mess with Euro-weenies. Leave the rule book alone. If FIFA wanted technology they would have asked the Japanese.

    Rule #45. Whatever America suggests will be immediately dissed. Wholeheartedly.

    Matt nailed it here. Who wants to watch even more “…grown men prance up to a field and toss little red hankies”? Priceless.

  10. Katie

    ….and eventually robot players. No need to scuff up and put in harm’s way mere humans (who really are imperfect and have a tendency to make dreadful mistakes). Life’s first lesson, most often learned on the field, is that the game–and life itself–is not fair, and striving for fairness in all things is rather a bore.

  11. Swade016 (Wade Michaels)

    If something (anything) exists that can make the adjudication of a sporting event more accurate and fair, and you knowingly ignore it for sake of entertainment, you should end the initials of the league with “E”, a la WWE. FIFA and MLB are entertainment industries and should never be taken seriously for the purposes of fair play and/or integrity.

    And honestly, I kind of enjoy it that way. I say bring back the meat-covered robots! I’m a little sick of all these no-hitters. Homeruns are much more entertaining! So are goals scored on handballs. Ask Thierry Henry!

  12. Briggs


    I had in mind one of Al Jaffe’s drawings, here.

    All else,

    Tomorrow (I hope), more on why tradition is more important than change for the sake of “perfection.”

  13. Bernie

    More interesting to me was the goal keeper’s attitude. Simply not cricket.

  14. Update on rule #44. I nailed that one. Now the screens in the stadia may no longer show blown calls. Life goes in in weenie land.

    Matt, I particularly liked AJ’s choice of actress to play his wife in his bio pic.

  15. Luis Dias

    If you take out the ability of the referee to make “silly” decisions, you are taking down a powerful tool to manipulate games while “pretending” to make “mistakes”.

    Now, we won’t to deprive referees to manipulate games, now do we? That would be silly.

  16. Faride

    The Germans were simply superior to Capello’s boys. Messi’s flick would have ended up in the back of the net, with or without Tevez’s assistance. Let the game remain pure, with human error and certainly without technology!

  17. rawger

    “But even when played in “slo-mo”, and even though our brains are telling us that Tevez is offside, it still doesn’t appear like he was offside, the play was that chaotic.”

    If I wasn’t so convinced that this is actually Sepp Blatter trolling us I would tell you to get your eyes examined. Which replay did you watch? The one I watched, many times, from many angles, allowed me to confirm the same fact within five seconds each time I viewed it- namely that Tevez was two yards offsides.

    I detected the Lampard goal with the same ease. If you structure your anti-replay argument around the inscrutability of the replays, you are going to have to continue making clearly stupid assertions like this one. Were I you Sepp, I would stick to whining about more nebulous things, things that are harder to disprove, like “Replays slow down the flow of the game.”

  18. Luis Dias

    Let the game remain pure

    What a load of crap. Define “purity” for me, if you will. So much fake romanticism over this thing. It’s a game, and if rules are applied ever more precisely, the game will be *BETTER*. It’s a simple deal, and I really don’t understand the people who persist to tell us that making mistakes is good ’cause it’s the human thing to do. Yeah right. I guess you must also be happy when some surgeon makes a mistake while operating your body, you know? It means he’s human and that’s “good”. Jeeebus.

  19. Pieter

    There were large screens in the stadium and there was a replay. The only people who did not know what happened were the arbiters.
    I think that is rather silly.

  20. Briggs


    I’m hoping Blatter is merely being political. It would difficult in the face of the current apoplexy to say, “We’ll do nothing.” But he can say, “We’ll certainly look into it”, which is a phrase which is logically consistent with “We’ll do nothing.”

  21. Muller

    How can few extra minutes make the game boring,If we say that it is the greatest sporting event on earth, It deserves correct decisions, Years of practice by some teams has been wasted due to wrong decisions.How can you imagine all those things(commercials etc..) without even trying the replay technology once.And Sepp Blatter still refuses to embrace video replay he only has said he will look into the goal line technology,a controversy which occurs usually in a match every 3 years,missing the main point of diving,offsides, handling ball wrong decisions etc. which seems to happen almost every other match.It destroys my love for the beautiful game.When players know that diving will be reviewed immediately and penalised,within a week of implementing FIFA would achieve what it is trying to achieve for the past 10 years’FAIR PLAY’.

  22. NO REPLAY IN SOCCER! And kudos to Briggs – this is the first web article I’ve read on this to hit *all* the points. Yes, it’s mostly about preserving the flow of the game and the authority of the refs, and yes, the slippery slope is exactly what has me scared, but it’s also about tradition.

    “The game played today can be compared to the game played yesterday. We can count the number of goals Messi scores (if he does) with those scored by his boss. But introduce ‘technology’ and then that comparison forever after has an asterisk.”


    As for Sepp being political – I agree he’s probably not serious about reviewing the use of technology. That’s just to keep the hounds at bay. If they make a change, it would more likely be to put more refs on the field. And even if he is serious about “reviewing the technology file,” it would more likely be to include a chip in the ball to detect when it was over the line. I doubt very seriously it would be to allow video replays in the adjudication of decisions. Soccer will remain a sport where decisions are simply never overturned, and that’s as it should be.

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