What the World Cup Could Learn from Ice Hockey I

The World Cup has had wonderously good TV coverage from a technical point of view. Often one shot on goal is shown from 3 or 4 points of camera angles. And the broad overhead shots of the field provide a great overview of the field of play. And who cannot be amazed at the net camera shots which show intimately how a goal is scored including the shaking of the camera attached to the netting. Spectacular!

But also the problem as the NHL-National Hockey league learned to its demise – good TV shows off poor officiating.

This is one of three problems in which FIFA, the World Cup sponsors and organizers, could learn a lesson from Ice Hockey. First and foremost, good TV coverage shows off how bad the officiating can be. Think of the disallowed England goal against Germany and US versus Slovenia. Think of the many Thespian performances as players dive and writhe in pain in order to get a freekick. This nonsense is being caught on camera in HD technicolor; let alone the thousands of still cameras trained on the field.

Brazil’s Kaka caught mid-dive
The fundamental problem is that the referee is running about 12 miles per game across a pitch that is 120m(130 yards) by 45m(50 yards). And with swift long ball initiated counter attacks, the referee is whipped one way and another. The result to no one surprise is that the referee can be 20-40 yards from the point of infraction with his his line of sight obscured by one or more players. Not conducive to making the best of calls and the World Cup broadcasts have certainly shown that.

Now FIFA will counter that the referee has 2 sideline assistants able to make calls. But let me tell you talks with those sideline assistants reveals   they are fully absorbed in the tricky task of calling offsides and out-of-bounds plays. Also some referees do not like interference by the sideline assistants in the games. So referees can count on scant assistance from the sidelines.

The obvious solution is what the NHL did ten years ago – added a second referee to the game and for goal scoring disputes added video replay shortly there after. Now bad officiating, especially disputed goal scoring calls is much less a factor in the NHL and especially Stanley Cup Playoff games. Contrast that with some of   the World Cup “action”.

But FIFA is resisting strenuously.

FIFA’s arguments are threefold. First, an added referee will just cause confusion and conflict between the two referees. Not so from NHL experience. The two referees cover the two halfs of the rink but do flow back and forth with the the play. Nearest referee gets primary call responsibility;but they quickly confer to confirm calls on occasion. Getting the call right is their first priority and how they are assessed and compensated.   The referees work together to call a good game.

The source of the second objection from FIFA is that two referees and video replay will stifle the free flow of the game. But look what all the player protests, painful on-field writhings, and free kick/corner kick   shenanigans are doing to the free flow of the game. Ice hockey was told the same story. But the elimination of a deception advantage with better officiating did the opposite, added more speed and flow to ice hockey.

Last, citing Werner Heissenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, Sepp Blatter, head of FIFA says people enjoy this uncertainty on whether the game is called right. It adds an Ich kenn nicht wass [je ne sais quoi] to the game.   Hmmm …. and I don’t know what could be a more ridiculous idea.

So watch what FIFA does . FIFA will do its part for fighting unemployment by adding two more officials standing at the goal mouth and making sure that that the goal scored by Ghana versus Uruguay was not stopped by a hand ball but had broken through the goal mouth plane and so no penalty kick was required.   Meanwhile on field, the game of deception will continue at full pace – and the Toronto World Junior Football Championships has shown how much that can ruin the game. Argentina vs Chile promised speed and flow aplenty. Instead Toronto was treated to a brawl- shoving, shirt pulling, trips, and non-trips, arguments and near fisticuffs between the teams. The worst “game” this reviewer had ever seen in sport. There was no uncertainty that a game like that had done football a great disservice.

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