28 June 2010

Should football be more like boxing?

This will probably be the last posting on football for some time... I don't run a sports blog very well, as I simply don't know enough. But I wanted to draw attention to an interesting article by Simon Kuper in the Guardian, "Fifa corrupt? is the Pope a Catholic?"

Extraordinary allegations of vote-rigging for the election of FIFA president Sepp Blatter (he who is opposed to 4th official video replays in games), match-fixing and intimidation by FIFA of anyone who dares to speak out against corruption.

I should stress that I have absolutely no idea whether any of this stuff is true. But even if halfway true, it seems to me that the best course of action for any countries who think the current system stinks would be to form a breakaway international football association and hold their own rebel world cup.

FIFA is like any unaccountable monopolist: that power corrupts, and in the absence of any democratic mechanism to hold them to account, a bit of competition would work wonders.

I've always liked the fact that boxing has about 3 or 4 separate world titles as it makes things somewhat more messy and unpredictable - which is the essence of generating any interest in sport, really. Maybe football will end up going the same way. It would be much more exciting than what's going on at the moment, anyhow.

12 comments:

red two said...

Whilst not wishing to argue against the main thrust of your post, I would question the use of "he who is opposed to 4th official video replays in games" as a damning sobriquet.

There are many accusations that can be and are levelled at Blatter. The refusal to bow to nonsensical, ill-motivated, poorly thought out and ill-informed bandwagon in favour of tv replays was not among the most grievous.

(and then he DID bow to pressure, of course. kinda. and say they'd talk about it again. which doesn't alter the fact that it's an appallingly bad idea...)

Voller said...

Now I know very little and care even less about football, but I'm intrigued to know a bit more about what lies behind red two's vehemently anti-video replay stance. It may not be a meaningful comparison to refer to tennis, but the introduction of allowing players to challenge dodgy decisions seems to me to have been largely a step forward (although I do accept that sometimes players decide to use their allowance of challenges in a way designed more to rattle their opponents than for the sake of 'fairness'). Whilst I do still believe there is value in teaching kids to respect that 'the referee's decision is final', sometimes it is difficult to respect those decisions when instant replays show they were blatantly wrong.

But, hey, what do I know? Be interested to hear the opposing argument.

red two said...

the honest answer is the failure of the mainstream media to even acknowledge that there's an issue to debate. There's nothing like a one-sided argument to polarise one's opinion in the opposite direction.

But there are plenty of reasons to be apprehensive, particularly about video technology. You draw comparisons with tennis... giroscoper mentions rugby. But in both cases... certainly the former... you're talking about a review when the game is already "dead". The current football discussion centres around goal-line technology... the intention being that cameras on the goalline could review or automatically detect whether a ball had crossed the line... and in football, the ball is very rarely dead at the point where the assessment is made.

IF it's possible to devise a system whereby this decision is made almost instantaneously and automatically (and reasonably reliably...), the argument against goalline technology is weaker. But my understanding is that this isn't really the case... hawk-eye doesn't work, because you're not talking about something as clear cut as a ball hitting the ground relative to a white line... it's a three dimensional problem with obstacles in the way.

So... if we're talking a video referee, then there really is a delay in the decision, however brief. Does the game carry on in this period? Really? What's at stake is one of the most enjoyable aspects of football, the sheer relentlessness of it. Tennis, cricket and even rugby aren't comparable in that respect. The pursuit of the "right" decision is in itself a lower priority for me preserving the speed of the game.

Of key concern is the prospect of this being "the thin end of the wedge". If you have a referee with a video camera making judgments about the ball crossing the line, why not on penalty calls? offsides? tackles/fouls? There are vested interests making a case for technology (Sky not least) in the knowledge that they would inevitably, eventually be involved in implementing it, and therefore with still greater influence. If replays were used this widely then the game certainly would be disrupted, and often deliberately... there's far more scope for exploitation of replays to waste time/disrupt flow/relieve pressure in football than there is in tennis, and nor unfortunately is there the culture of respect for officials and "fair play" in football that is more prevalent in rugby (or so people tell me, I've not watched much since visiting giroscoper at college in 1993).

The cost of the exercise shouldn't be overlooked... I think only centre court and court 1 use hawk-eye at Wimbledon? At any event, it's questionable whether a technological "solution" would be a realistic proposition below the Premier League (in domestic competition), and certainly not outside the professional game. So you're differentiating football at the highest level from football in the park... the two don't really differ at the moment except in ability (and then only sometimes). That's a romantic argument, but not without value.

red two said...

Finally, it's a misguided chase... this pursuit of "the right answer". Frank Lampard's "goal" in England's game against Germany might have changed the game had it stood, but it didn't. And as giroscoper points out, England lost because they played like idiots and failed to cope with what was thrown at them, not because of a bad refereeing call. Where's the outrage at John Terry's defending? At England's appalling tactics?

The officials should have noted that the ball was over the line. A camera would surely have made "the right call". But at what cost? A mistake that big shouldn't have been made by officials anyway - and I suspect that the experiment of two extra "linesmen", one to the side of each goal on the goalline, would eradicate such mistakes in the one game in three thousand odd when they are made. Is a video replay going to be explicit about closer calls than that one? Which is what it should be being judged on. Match of the Day often can't decide even after any amount of editors selecting the best angle on tight calls...

I'd like folk to stop treating refereeing errors as somehow different from players' errors. These happen in every game and some get stick, mostly people get on with it and are judged on how they react when the ball bounces back off the post, gets a lucky deflection, whatever. There's no sense of moral outrage when a goalkeeper drops a cross.

There's a lot at stake here, a lot to lose. And I'm not convinced the prize is worth it.

I'm going to bed now. Sorry to go on, but you did ask...

Why did Xabbortschz never do a World Cup song?

giroscoper said...

"He who is opposed to 4th official video replays in games" wasn't necessary meant to be damning... more an acknowledgement of the main issue Blatter has been linked with recently.

On video technology: I can honestly say I don't care much either way, really. Some of the bandwagon is certainly "nonsensical" but as Voller says there is a well-argued case for it; on the other hand there are some strong arguments against, as red two says.

I don't think it'd slow the game down that much - you've mentioned rugby, which is not quite as high-paced as soccer but it's still pretty fast-moving, and the video replay has made little difference to overall game length. Certainly not as much as the length of time football players spend on the floor feigning injury. :-)

One thing that does piss me off is that people call for video replays on the grounds that bad refereeing decisions are "unfair". But unless the ref is actively biased it seems to me they are unfortunate rather than unfair, because ex ante it's not biased against one team or the other. It's just a factor that makes the game a little more random than it would otherwise be. A bit like Bryan Robson... you never really knew if the guy was gonna make it through a match without some hideous injury, and in some small way, that made life more interesting.

Voller said...

OK at least I now understand the opposing arguments, so thanks for that. Not entirely sure to what extent I agree, but then, as I said, I'm no really that bothered by the game in the first place. I did however watch this evening's World Cup Final and found it on the whole an entertaining game to watch, although there was rather a lot of stop-start action as the ref blew the whistle for fouls. This often seems to be the case whenever I do happen to watch a game, so I'm not sure the game is that much faster-paced than rugby (although I freely admit I'm out of my depth here - whilst I rarely watch football I practically never watch rugby).

You are of course right to assert that, were video technology to be introduced, it would be differentiating between top-level fotball and football in the park, but then surely you could list countless other differences that already exist (e.g. quality of stadia, equipment, teams' bank balances etc.) - and one could argue there is slightly more at stake.

I agree with giroscoper's point about the difference between 'unfair' decisions and 'unfortunate' ones. If the refs aren't biased and just make their mistakes randomly then I guess it evens itself out in the long run. But how do we know that the refs aren't biased, even at a sub-conscious level? They could of course adopt the Nicholas Parsons 'Just a Minute' approach of saying, 'well I made a mistake against you earlier so I'll give you the benefit of the doubt next time'. It seems to work in the context of a Radio 4 panel game, so maybe it would work for football. But of course they would need to realise that a mistake had been made in the first place... Of course all the fans in the stadium with 'instant replay' apps on their i-phones would know whether mistakes had been made; the refs/linesmen would be the only ones in the dark. Trial by lynchmob?

Anyway now I'm rambling. I'm sure the debate will run on and on until the next World Cup. Be interesting to see what happens. Well, interesting-ish.

giroscoper said...

In answer to red two's other question - why Xabbortschz never did a world cup song - don't forget when we were doing our stuff - 1990. Because of England New Order - surely the greatest ever world cup song? - we must have felt there was no gap in the market. Now if we'd been doing it in '82 and the competition was "This Time We'll Get It Right" then maybe...

giroscoper said...

Actually just listening to Xabbortschz on Myspace and my impression, 20 years later is, great songs... does anyone remember the lyrics? 'Cos it just seems to be some cat mumbling in the background. Bass and guitar are way down as well - this is mid-60s beat group production! Who's responsible for this mixing travesty? Oh shit...

giroscoper said...

I meant bass and drums are well down - guitar is UP THERE. In fact on some of these tracks ALL I can here is the guitar. Someone must have felt it was really important...

red two said...

I said at the start of my very long ramble that I was conscious that my view was polarised by the fact that there hadn't really been a debate... the case against video replays wasn't really being represented.

I guess my argument would be summed as "it ain't broke, don't fix it, you'll probably just screw it up worse anyway"...

Not, Voller, that you care. As you have emphasised. Twenty years since Xabbortschz, you still haven't been to a Watford game. This is very disappointing...

Voller said...

No, never been to a Watford match - or indeed *any* football match ever.
Not enough video cameras for my liking.

Voller said...

... although you may be interested to know that I did recently purchase a certain book about Watford (as a gift for a friend of my wife's, who is a massive Watford fan - who knows, you've probably been in the same crowd as her on numerous occasions)