KEIR RADNEDGE in BELFAST —- Just as world football’s lawmakers edging cautiously forward on the fraught issue of video refereeing so the need for greater haste was being demonstrated back across the Irish Sea.
FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke had barely finished fretting over “the biggest decision ever in the way football is played” than Wes Brown was being sent off instead of culprit John O’Shea in Sunderland’s 2-0 defeat at Manchester United.
Too late for the International Football Association board, meeting at the Culloden Hotel just outside Belfast, to be challenged on the issue. It had alreadty just referred the issue to its football and technical advisory panels for further assessment later this year.
Yet with referees under increasing fire in today’s multi-camera environment – not least from Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, let alone Gus Poyet – FIFA president Sepp Blatter had already signalled a potential shift in world football opinion.
At FIFA Congress last June in Sao Paulo he urged consideration of the right for managers and coaches to claim video reviews during a game.
Blatter was also in Belfast for the IFAB discussion of an issue which has been the subject of informal and unofficial experimentation over the past year by the Dutch federation.
The KNVB had presented its interim findings to the four British associations but not to FIFA which is the fifth member of the lawmaking body. The Dutch want to run a formal experiment in the Dutch cup next season. This would clearly be prohibited by the game’s governing authorities.
IFAB comprises representatives from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales which each have one vote, FIFA has four on behalf of the rest of the world. A positive decision requires the support of a minimum of six votes, three-quarters of the membership.
In Brazil Blatter had told delegates from FIFA’s 209 member associations: “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.”
Easier said than done as far as the essentially – and sensibly – conservative guardian of the game’s laws are concerned.
Patrick Nelson, chief executive of the Irish Football Association, said: “We had an extensive discussion including feedback from the two IFAB advisory panels last November. This topic should continued to be discussed by the two panels in more detail.”
Plainly opinion was mixed on the pace of progress with England and Scotland favouring early moves towards formal experimentation.
After the meeting Greg Dyke, chairman of the FA, expressed his frustration at the level of caution shown by IFAB. Dyke said: “I was a bit disappointed that we didn’t get get this any further. I am a great fan of video technology. It seems to me that if there are means of helping referees we should try them in trials and, if they work, adopt them.
“The point I made at the meeting was that instead of waiting until we get another Frank Lampard moment to change the rules as we did with goal line technology, we should go on the front foot. Video technology should be used to help referees, not to change or overrule them.”
However, Jonathan Ford, chief executive of the FA of Wales, stood firm on the need to maintain the traditional IFAB policy of caution.
Ford said: “We have to help the referee, especially in the light of current circumstances but the decision is very important because it will bring fundamental changes to the way the game is managed by the referee.
“We have seen some sports where the referee defers too much to the ‘man in the van’ and that could lead to managers and coaches and fans demanding more analysis of the video than decisions by the referee. Our decision would affect the way in which football is managed and that makes it a very difficult one.”
The fact that FIFA and the advisory panels had not been informed about the unofficial experiment being conducted by the Dutch federation was further reason for caution.
Ford said: “We shouldn’t allow experimentation to be conducted willy nilly. We [on IFAB] are much more proactive than in the past but . . . looking at a proposal from one association is probably not the way we should do business. we need to look at all of this in more detail.”
Valcke echoed Ford’s tone and refused to talk about possible timing out of concern for the significance of the issue.
He said: “This needs a lot of discussion. If the referee relies too much on the other information he is getting then there is a risk the referee will not be as strong as he is today.
“[The timing issue] is not a question of years but of making the biggest decision ever in the way football is played.”
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