Archive for December, 2011

High profile matches have an influence

There are many matches regarded as the great derbies in world football.

El Clasico in Spain between Real Madrid and Barcelona is one, as is the famous Egyptian derby between Al Ahly and Zamalek and the Scottish Old Firm derby between Rangers and Celtic.

At international level Argentina v Brazil is an eagerly awaited fixture, as is any match between England and Germany.

When a controversial incident occurs in such high profile matches it is always going to hit the headlines.

FIFA had been totally opposed to the use of goal line technology but the controversial decision not to award a goal to England in the match against Germany in South Africa 2010 reignited the argument and FIFA President Sepp Blatter was forced to change his position.

This week’s Scottish derby between Celtic and Rangers had its usual controversy, this time a question of whether or not the ball had crossed the line for a goal to Rangers in the 7th minute.

It was a very borderline decision, even after frame by frame analysis on television.

The referee and the assistant referee, whose line of sight was blocked by at least one player, had no chance of giving a definite decision and play continued.

Goal line technology might have given a goal or indicated that the ball had not crossed the line. It was so marginal.

At the moment nine goal line technology companies are making presentations to FIFA and the International FA Board and present indications are that only two, the Cairos chip in the ball system, linked with adidas and Hawkeye, the system used in tennis and cricket, seem able to move to the next stage in the verification process.

It is highly unlikely that any system will be in place for the 2012-2013 season and questions remain whether it will be ready for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

In Scotland, there has been a lot of publicity about this week’s goal line incident, but this is the first such incident at an Old Firm in the last ten years.

Football must not over-react to a single incident and do not expect goal line technology to be introduced worldwide, even if a system is shown to meet the IFAB criteria.

It costs money and very often the referee and assistant get it right anyway!

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The punishment must fit the crime

The Laws of the Game state that decisions are given ‘in the opinion of the referee’ but things have changed recently.

In Scotland, for exanple, the Scottish FA has appointed a new Compliance Officer who can look at controversial incidents over any weekend on Monday morning and decide if some players should be punished retrospectively.

An appeal by a club against a decision can be referred to a tribunal.

There is some merit in this system but it is in its infancy and already some controversial have emerged.

Rangers forward Sone Aluko, for example, was banned for two matches for diving in the penalty area and winning a match winning penalty kick against Dunfermline recently.

Had the referee recognised the dive he would have been cautioned and that would have been the end of the story.

A week later another player was seen on television to punch an opponent in the stomach and he also received a two match ban.

These offences are very different and should be punished differently.

I believe the principle of post match review of incidents has value but only if the Review Panel shows consistency in its punishments.

Obviously the system must still be regarded as ‘work in progress – could do better’!

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UEFA takes a sensible approach

UEFA has announced the 12 referees who will take part in EURO 2012 in Poland and Ukraine from 8th June until 1st July 2012.

This is a different approach from the one FIFA takes in selecting the referees for the FIFA World Cup.

UEFA has gone for 12 referees from 12 countries and 8 of these countries have qualified for the Finals.

This is a very sensible approach.

Firstly they have selected 12 referees who have vast experience refereeing matches in the Champions League, the highest level of club football in the world – and possibly a quality even higher than the FIFA World Cup.

Secondly they have selected referees many of whom are involved in the top European leagues – England, Spain, Germany and Italy.

Thirdly they selected them early, giving them plenty of time to prepare.

FIFA normally makes the final selection much nearer to the World Cup.

It is a more complex and political selection process since it is not always the best 24 or so referees who are selected – taking into account the demands for representation from all six confederations.

It produced the anomaly in South Africa 2010 that New Zealand was one of only two countries to have two referees selected although there is no question that there were many more countries with high quality professional leagues which could reasonably justify inclusion of more than one referee in the final list.

But this would have adjusted the numbers balance between the confederations.

Although the EURO 2012 Finals will have only 12 referees they will have two assistant referees, a fourth official and two additional assistants so 72 officials will actually be appointed to the tournament because the IFAB Additional Assistants Experiment, strongly supported by UEFA, will continue in Poland and Ukraine.

This was the total number of officials who took part in the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea/Japan when there were 64 matches instead of the 32 in EURO 2012.

Make no mistake, they will all be under major pressure but for the moment they can enjoy the satisfaction of being selected.

It is the end of the first lap but the second lap will be a much bigger challenge.

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Goal line technology moves closer

The recent announcement by FIFA that two of the companies developing goal line technology had fulfilled the criteria required by the International FA Board has raised the stakes in the technology argument.

FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, a well known late convert to goal line technology, has stated that he expects it will be in place for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

Will this now be the death knell of the UEFA experiment with the additional goal line assistants?

Probably yes.

Blatter has never been a strong supporter of this system but did not oppose it directly, and so oppose its architect, UEFA President Michel Platini, during the run up to what could have been a very close FIFA Presidential Election.

There is no need to placate Platini now that Blatter has been re-elected and given the general opposition to the principle from European clubs and the implications of introducing it worldwide it seems dead in the water.

It would have been killed completely if the last minute goal scored by Manchester United in the last few minutes against Basel in the Champions League had not been awarded but the officials got it right.

No matter how many officials are in charge of the match, it all depends on each individual getting every decision absolutely correct.

It is Utopia to expect this to happen but will goal line technology really improve the beautiful game?

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Cheating is the name of the game

20 years ago the word ‘simulation’ was a term hardly ever used in football but today it is used regularly.

Simulation is a sanitised way of describing cheating.

Players dive to win penalties or simulate injuries to have an opponent sent off or cautioned. They try to cheat the referee and more importantly, the game of football itself.

The Scottish Football Association has fairly recently appointed a Compliance Officer to speed up the disciplinary procedures. He is a lawyer and not a football person but he has the responsibility to look at video evidence and decide whether a case should be brought against a player for actions such as simulation.

As part of the speedy settlement of cases, the SFA charged Rangers’ player Sone Aluko with diving to gain a penalty in last Saturday’s SPL match between Rangers and Dunfermline. The referee awarded a penalty kick, Rangers scored and won 2-1.

Ally McCoist, the manager of Rangers FC has openly criticised the fact that a ‘non-football’ person should be in such a position of influence.

I do not agree since I think there is great value in having an independent view in such cases.

Very few footballers become top football administrators – Beckenbauer and Platini are notable exceptions.

The SFA Tribunal decided that the Rangers player had been guilty of diving and banned him for two matches.

In my opinion, there was no doubt that he dived. The referee was deceived and awarded the penalty.

If the referee had seen the dive he would have cautioned Aluko but now he has been punished by a two match ban.

I think this is should have been one match but I agree with the principle of taking retrospective action against cheats.

A major problem in Scottish football, however, is that in a similar case involving a different referee, a different player and a different tribunal, a player who, in my opinion, was also clearly guilty of the same offence, was found not guilty.

If you want to have consistency from referees who have to make an instant decision, you must also have consistency from disciplinary tribunals who can watch replays from all sorts of angles and replay the incident as many times as they wish.

This is, I believe, a major weakness in the new system but hopefully, as more and more cases are dealt with, an essential degree of consistency will appear.

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Blatter under pressure – again!

The past few weeks have not been good for FIFA President Sepp Blatter.

Firstly he became involved in the racism issues which involve two high profile Barclays Premier League players – Luis Suarez of Liverpool and England and Chelsea captain John Terry.

His suggestion that that racial discrimination could be settled with a handshake might have been non-controversial in most countries but in England, where these cases are still being investigated by the FA and feature prominently in the media, it lit a blue touch paper of outrage.

There is also the not insignificant matter of the ongoing resentment of FIFA in England following the failure of the England 2018 World Cup bid.

Blatter admitted his comments had caused a “serious incident” and that he had used “unfortunate words” which he “deeply regretted”.

He also said any players found guilty of racism on the pitch should be thrown out of the game.

“Zero tolerance,” he said. “This was a good lesson for me as well.”

Blatter will not resign because of his comments, no matter the demands of the FA and others in the English game but the most recent problem is much more serious.

Transparency International, a highly regarded corruption watchdog which was advising FIFA after a series of bribery and corruption scandals, has cut its ties with world football’s governing body.

An official of Transparency International said two of the key recommendations in a report it had produced had been ignored.

Firstly it said FIFA was paying an expert to oversee major reforms to how it is run and this would jeopardise his independence.

But perhaps more significantly the new investigative body would not re-examine any old allegations or scandals.

How can world football opinion be expected to ignore the basic reasons why such an investigation was necessary?

It is like saying there has been a murder but we are not going to investigate it. Instead we are going to install CCTV cameras to make sure it will not happen again.

FIFA was looking to Transparency International to give its investigation credibility but its decision not to take any further part totally undermines FIFA’s position.

Blatter is a supreme political operator who has remained at the helm of SS FIFA, as General Secretary and President for over 30 years.

He is under major pressure now, but who will call him to account?

Not most of the member associations who benefit from FIFA largesse through, for example, Goal Projects worth $4000,000 and a four yearly payment of
$ 2million.

Not most of the FIFA Executive Committee who benefit from their First Class Travel, $500 per day allowances, $50.000 annual payment and a generous pension scheme.

Oh to have someone with the integrity and courage of the late FIFA Vice-President David Will to fearlessly face up to Blatter and challenge FIFA’s Governance – or lack of it!

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