Refereeing: FIFA is the enemy

June 28, 2010

After referee Jorge Larrionda waved off an obvious goal by England and signaled for the two teams to play on, the players instead stopped. The ball was kicked out of bounds. The two captains, Steven Gerrard and Philipp Lahm quickly conferred, and then the two teams quietly walked off the field in protest. That is not what happened, but boy, would I have loved to see that! I have followed every World Cup and Euro since 1986. That is a lot of tournaments, and every one has a whopper or two of a call. I am not talking about controversy here. I am referring to the absolutely, unbelievably wrong calls that alter the course of a game. Plays that everyone in the world sees one way, and the 3 people that make the decisions - the referee and his linesmen, see differently. A genuine avalanche follows these stinkers - an avalanche of proposals on how to fix the broken system. Everyone chimes in, from the guy next to you at the bar, to the sports columnists at the New York Times. Electronic replay figures prominently in those, but there are other ideas also. Four years ago, I myself talked about adding an extra referee or two from my modest bully pulpit on Worldview. Some of these proposals have a very small audience, others have one that is huge, but there is one audience member always missing, and that is FIFA. FIFA is not listening, because FIFA does not care about your ideas. FIFA does not care about proposals coming from fans, or coaches, or players, or national associations. FIFA is not interested in fixing the system. And that is why FIFA is the enemy. How do you take on an enemy that is big and powerful? You get big and powerful yourself. There are 208 national associations that are members of FIFA. That would be close to 10000 professional players that put on a national team's uniform every year. Obviously, without them there is no World Cup, which means no ticket sales, no merchandise sales, and no press coverage. Players are a group with the most bargaining power when it comes to fighting FIFA. Players, along with the coaches, are also the ones most hurt by refereeing fiascoes. The fans just move on. The media goes on to cover the next game. The players get to go home, without a chance to prove what they can really do. The 1986 England, just to pick the most egregious example, was a lovely team. I, for one, would have loved to see what the great Gary Lineker could do against Belgium in the semifinals, and against Germany in the final. But it was not to be, all because of the Hand of God. At this point, it does not matter what the new system will be. First, we need to garner political power to be able to force this new system on the enemy - FIFA. Football Players of the World, Unite!
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