Disastrous day for football and FIFA – are handball and IHF learning from it?

Not so long ago I wrote an article http://teamhandballnews.com/news.php?item.977 urging that the feasibility and desirability of different forms of ‘video review’ in handball should begin to be investigated. I do not see it as a foregone conclusion that such reviews should be introduced, because there are certainly arguments both for and against, but at least an investigation should be initiated as soon as possible. In my article I commented on FIFA’s refusal to consider introducing technology in any form for the purpose of assisting the referees or allowing for a review, and I was suggesting that this must not be an argument for the IHF to be against changes.

Today, when football should have celebrated a great day at the World Cup with two exciting match-ups, Germany-England and Argentina-Mexico, we saw instead the pleasure and the fairness ruined by two terrible mistakes that it would have been possible to correct. The only positive thing was that in both matches the team that was given a one-goal advantage was in any case superior and won with a larger margin. I am also pleased to see that the teams/federations who lost were ready to admit that the opponents were better, but clearly they were also agonizing over the injustices they had suffered.

In Argentina-Mexico, the first goal for Argentina was scored from an off-side position that was very obvious also without waiting for any replay. The excuse could be made for the linesman that the goalkeeper position was somewhat unusual for a situation where off-side needs to be checked. But this is not the point; mistakes are human and will be made, and in this sense FIFA is right. Whether they are right in insisting that we should ignore mistakes that can be discovered and corrected, that is another story. Here we now had a situation where the Mexican players could point to the video screen in the stadium and immediately show the referee that the decision was wrong. But this evidence had to be ignored. (At least we can be content in handball that off-side is not an issue for us…).

In Germany-England, it is now unfortunate that some first-rate action by the German players will seem diminished by a terrible mistake in a critical moment. Germany had taken a 2-0 lead, whereupon England first narrowed the lead and then scored a goal that would have been the equalizer. But what was instantly clear to many and became 110% clear from the replay, this was not clear to the linesman. He had been caught out of position and somehow thought that the ball rebounded from the crossbar outside the goal-line, when in fact it was very clearly inside. If the goal had been correctly given, leading to a 2-2 score, the rest of the game could have developed very differently. What is intriguing is that the incorrect decision in some absurd sense amounted to a late revenge for the World Cup 1966, where England in the final defeated Germany largely thanks to a ‘goal’ that a linesman invented. (I know because I was there, in a better position than the linesman!)

One aspect that deserves highlighting is the awkward combination of making the referee aware of his mistake during the game but still preventing him from doing something about it. In the GER-ENG game, the referee saw his mistake on TV at half-time; in the ARG-MEX game, the referee could see it on the video screen even before the game had restarted after the incorrect decision. How might this, however subconsciously, affect the referee and linesmen during the rest of the game?

Also, FIFA argues that video review in a World Cup is inappropriate because ‘the rules must be the same at all levels’, and clearly it is only in the international and national top events where adequate equipment would be available. But we are not talking about different rules; a goal is a goal and the off-side rule is the same everywhere. It just does not seem reasonable that FIFA shows off the benefits of technology by showing replays of all the questionable decisions on the stadium screens and on TV, while the referees are prevented from being helped by similar technology. At least in handball the IHF regulations prevent such replays from being shown in the arenas…

There is a cynical expression that it is always better to learn from someone else’s mistakes. So the question is now: [u]is handball prepared to learn, at least to the point of seriously and thoroughly investigating the concept of video review[/u]?? I do not want to push for a particular outcome, but I eagerly await the result of an urgent study! After all, as some of our readers might be aware, I was the match supervisor in the 2008 Olympic semifinal Korea-Norway; and I would have loved to have had access to a goal camera replay at that time. As it now is, I assume I will never know the right answer: I have one still photo showing ‘goal’ and another showing ‘no goal’…

Some interesting links regarding the incidents in GER-ENG and ARG-MEX:

From the web site of Jens Weinreich, where he offers commentary but also includes a video clip from the 1966 ENG-GER game and a humorous take on why the linesmen did not give a goal:

„1966 in reverse“: von Wembley nach Bloemfontein

Then a more truthful rendering of the disallowed English goal, together with the player's call for goal-line technology to be introduced: http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/football/world_cup_2010/8766423.stm

And finally a photo from the sports paper Ole' in Argentina that clearly shows the off-side 'goal': http://www.ole.com.ar/mundial/vio-mundo_0_287971338.html