World Cup referees debacle forces FIFA's Sepp Blatter to reopen debate on technology

As the furor over bad World Cup referees continues, Sepp Blatter, the head of world soccer's governing body, FIFA, said Tuesday that the debate over whether to use technology to aid refs will be reopened.

By , Staff writer

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    FIFA president Sepp Blatter spoke Tuesday during a media briefing in Johannesburg. He apologized for the refereeing mistakes that have blighted the World Cup and said soccer's governing body would look again at introducing goalline technology.
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Sepp Blatter is talking tough today. It would be "a nonsense" not to consider changes to world soccer body FIFA's policy against allowing the officials to use modern technology, said the head of the Switzerland-based organization.

Mr. Blatter also waxed apologetic, explaining that he said sorry to England and Mexico officials after the disastrous performances of World Cup referees during Sunday's second round matches. (Refs missed a clear English goal in the England vs. Germany game and allowed a clearly illegal first goal by Argentina in the Argentina vs. Mexico game. Both errors featured in the Monitor's Top five refereeing gaffes of the 2010 World Cup)

"The English said 'thank you.' The Mexicans, they just go with the head," Blatter said, indicating that they nodded. "I understand that they are not happy. It was not a five-star game for refereeing."

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IN PICTURES: Top 2010 World Cup controversies

OK, Mr. Blatter can admit mistakes. That's good. And he also is showing FIFA's willingness to change.

"After having witnessed such a situation," Blatter said, referring to England's non-goal against Germany, "we have to open again this file, definitely. Naturally we will take on board again the discussion about technology. Something has to be changed."

This should be cause for celebration, given that the famously opaque bureaucracy is not known for self-reflection. But there is still the sense that this is too little, too late.

England would have equalized with Germany right before halftime if FIFA had goal line technology in place to alert referees that the ball had crossed the goal line. That could have changed the tenor of the game. Mexico wouldn't have gone behind Argentina so early in that crucial match if the goal from Carlos Tevez, who was a few yards offside, had been reviewed via instant replay.

Other sports implemented these changes years ago and they're better for it. And soccer players and fans have long asked for these changes (at least the goal-line technology). Yet FIFA has repeatedly stonewalled any efforts to change.

The embarrassing – and, for England and Mexico, infuriating – mistakes did not have to mar the top tournament in the world's most popular sport if FIFA had listened a little earlier. Yet as recent as March 11, Blatter said: "If play were to be stopped to take a decision, it would break up the rhythm of the game and possibly deny a team the opportunity to score a goal. It would also not make sense to stop play every two minutes to review a decision, as this would go against the natural dynamism of the game."

FIFPro, the group which represents pro players worldwide, is adding to the pressure on FIFA.

"The entire football world once again reacted with disbelief to FIFA's stubborn insistence that technology does not belong in football," FIFPro said. "The credibility of the sport is at stake."

Indeed. Yet, even in his newfound openness, Blatter said that with calls "like in the Mexico game, we don't need technology."

C'mon, Sepp. Do the right thing.

Otherwise, you may end up making stone-age Major League Baseball – whose reluctance to use instant replay recently caused an uproar by ruining a no-hitter by Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga – look like an early adapter.

IN PICTURES: Top 2010 World Cup controversies

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