Soccer and GAA need to get over their hang-up about video games

LAST Saturday I watched the senior football play-off game between Tipperary and Dublin. It was not a particularly great game, but it was much more interesting and exciting than any of the World Cup soccer matches. The Cork and Waterford Munster hurling final on Sunday also left the soccer in the shade.

The Leinster football final between Louth and Meath was infinitely more interesting and exciting than the World Cup final, but one could hardly be blamed for wondering if the referee of that game was not trying to make the soccer officials look good with his bizarre decision to allow a Meath ‘goal’ in injury time, therby denying the Wee County its first Leinster championshp in 53 years.

Some of the World Cup soccer games were marred by poor officiating, but it seemed as if the GAA was determined to rescue Sepp Blatter, the FIFA president, , from his own ineptitude. He had been ridiculing calls for the introduction of technology to prevent the kind of thing that happened to Ireland in the qualifying game with France last November.

But he was made to look rather silly when the officials missed England’s second goal against Germany during the World Cup tournament.

Blatter obviously felt compelled to acknowledge it would be necessary to consider goal-line technology. This demonstrated that Britain has much more international influence that Ireland, but then that is hardly surprising to anyone. Blatter sought to minimise his climbdown by suggesting he was only talking about goal-line technology to determine whether the ball was actually over the line, and not whether anybody had actually fouled the ball before scoring, as in the case of the controversial French goal last November.

The World Cup final last weekend could easily have had a very controversial conclusion. It may have seemed like Andrés Iniesta was offside when Fernando Torres first kicked the ball towards him, but video showed Iniesta was actually onside because he was level with one of the Dutch defenders. That defender knocked the ball to Spain’s Cesc Fabregas who passed it to Iniesta, who was then very clearly onside.

The Dutch players were obviously convinced offside should have been given for the initial pass. Afterwards the Dutch were bitter in the criticism of the English referee.

If Iniesta had been offside, one can only imagine the kind of complaints that would be circulating now. The referee and his assistants only get one chance to see things and mistakes are inevitable. If each team was allowed to ask a referee to check one decision in a game that would hardly take any longer than the usual celebrations after a goal is scored.

It is bad enough to lose, but to lose because of a bad refereeing decision is so much worse. In fairness to all the players, to the referee and to his assistants, each team should have the right to challenge at least one decision during a game. In this instance, certainly, that would not have taken longer than the Spanish team’s celebration of the goal.

Watching the video replay of the goal and the Spanish celebration, there was a magnificent human touch that most Irish people probably missed. After scoring, Iniesta took off his jersey and he had the message on his undershirt, ‘Dani Jarque siempre con nosostros’. This translated as ‘Dani Jarque always with us’. Dani was a young teammate who died of a heart attack last August during the pre-season preparations.

Iniesta explained afterwards he “wanted to pay tribute to him in the world of football and this was the best opportunity to do it.” There can be little doubt that he immortalised his friend in Spain with that glorious gesture.

It was reminiscent of the American movie about the Notre Dame football team in which the team’s most famous player, George Gipp, died of pneumonia in 1920 and the team’s famous coach, Knute Rockne, supposedly urged his players to “win one for Gipper”.

Gipp’s part in the movie was played by the future President Ronald Reagan and the line has been associated with him ever since.

There was some trepidation when video replays were first introduced on television in the US. There were fears they would make officials look foolish, but what they have generally showed is the officials are right much more often than the TV commentators.

Video technology has enhanced the judgment of officials and hence some sports have introduced it to aid them – and protect them from biased commentators. Video has been used to great affect in tennis, cricket and rugby games. Tennis players are entitled to query so many calls in a set. If a player’s challenge is upheld, then it does not count as a challenge.

At this year’s Wimbledon tennis championship the technology showed that ball was often in or out by less than inch. That ball may have been travelling at up to 100 mph and one should not expect that kind of accuracy from the human eye. The fact that the officials got the calls right so often was a marvel that frequently prompted surprised gasps from spectators.

After the fiasco over the English goal that was not awarded against Germany, Sepp Blatter suggested soccer should consider such goal-line technology. But he rejected the idea of using umpires behind the goals.

The GAA seemed to justify his stand last Sunday. The records will show Meath won the Leinster final, but nobody really believes that. The only thing Meath won was the contempt of real sports people by their refusal to replay the game.

IT seems absurd players can be suspended for incidents in a game that a referee does not see, yet no action is taken when a referee awards a goal that should never have been allowed thus changing the result in the last second of play.

It may be unfair to blame the referee for not seeing a particular incident in the midst of a welter of activity.

Joe Sheridan of Meath clearly fell over the goal line with the ball. Then, while on the ground, he threw the ball into net. The fact that he threw the ball is really of no more significance than if he had grounded it for a touchdown.

The rules are quite specific. An opposing player is not allowed to carry the ball over the goal line.

The biggest mistake referee Martin Sludden made was in not consulting the umpires, especially when they did not raise the green flag to signify the goal. Surely that was an indication they did not believe a goal should be awarded. But Sludden disregarded his umpires, not even bothering to ask them what they saw. He just ordered the green flag be raised to indicate a goal.

Umpires are not supposed to call the referee. If he desires their advice, he is supposed to ask for it.

Of course, in terms of technology, the referee is wired to the linesmen, umpires and an official off the field. Why are they all wired up – so that he can ignore them?

When the referee saw the video of what had happened he promptly accepted he had made a mistake, which demonstrates all the more reason that video technology should be used when it is available.

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Saturday, October 23, 2021

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