KEIR RADNEDGE in SAO PAULO: The pace of Sepp Blatter’s conversion to the benefits of technology is accelerating. FIFA’s president wants a debate on whether managers should have the right to two video referee challengers per game.
For almost all of his 39 years in FIFA Blatter was a ferocious opponent of technological assistance for referees. The game benefited from the ‘human element’ even though this brought occasional errors of judgment; the should maintain its ‘universality’ which made its staging identical in set-up from pub league to Premier League.
Then four years ago, on June 27, 2010, Blatter was in the VIP box in Bloemfontein. That day he and 40,510 other spectators saw Frank Lampard’s shot ricochet down from the German crossbar behind the goal-line and spin back out into play. Only Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda was unsighted and waved play on.
Two days later Blatter told this writer: “It is obvious that after the experiences so far in this World Cup it would be a nonsense for the [law-making] International Board not to reopen the file on technology at its next business meeting.”
However, he insisted that the reopened debate on technology extended only to goal-line fact and not to ‘judgment’ calls such as fouls or offsides. He maintained that stance when IFAB duly sanctioned the introduction of goal-line technology in the spring of 2012.
“Technology can be only for matters of fact and whether the ball has crossed the line is a matter of fact,” said Blatter – despite the cautionary warnings of UEFA president Michel Platini that goal-line technology was merely the first step on a slippery slope.
Platini was sitting on the same FIFA Congress stage in Sao Paulo when he heard Blatter slip a little further down that slope.
In his closing remarks Blatter told delegates: “I am developing an idea, speaking about technoloogy: we could do something more on the field of play. Why don’t we give managers the possibility of two challenges for refereeing decisions during a match and he could ask for a review by television.
“It’s something new but we should not stop when we have ideas to develop. We are not going to apply this tomorrow but it is good to put the game and the control of the game in question.”
Blatter is making a habit of changing his mind on major issues. Three years ago he said he would not run for a fifth term of office; now he is preparing to do precisely that.
Asked, at a press conference, why he had shifted again on technology, he came up with the same reason.
“I have also said you can change your mind and I think, when I analyse football, we should not only analyse it off the pitch but on it and therefore I think this call – I spoke with former footballers and coaches – is an idea we have the possibility [to explore] now with the new organisation of IFAB where we can bring it to the attention of the football and technical panels and this will be a good discussion
“You must all have the the feeling when you look at the television and you have 34 cameras and what has happened is so evident that this is a good idea if it is feasible.”