The World Cup Needs Instant Replay… Now

Written by Clay Travis

Sunday’s blown goal call in the Germany and England match needs to be a clarion call from this day forth: The World Cup must have instant replay for all goals or potential goals. In case you missed it, you can watch the goal scored by England’s Frank Lampard by clicking here. England went on to lose the match 4-1, but Lampard’s goal should have tied the game at 2. Anyone who watched this game, you and I included, immediately realized what a bungled call this was.

After the missed call the British would yield two more goals and march back into the ignominy of another failed World Cup. FIFA officials, who have dealt with blown goal calls the entire tournament, refused to comment upon the latest colossal blunder. Instead FIFA arrogantly relied upon the old tried and true statements once trotted out as weak excuses for why there would be no instant replay in American sports leagues. Namely, that instant replay would represent a slippery slope that would lead to too much review, would be difficult to implement, and make the game worse.

Officials missed Lampard’s apparent equalizer
That argument is completely wrong. FIFA must have instant replay for the World Cup.

Now. I know we in America always get charged with cultural imperialism anytime we make suggestions about how to improve the game of soccer. But the obstacles offered to instant replay in the NFL, the NHL, and Major League Baseball, and college football are all the exact same obstacles being offered by FIFA officials today. The point is, as all of our pro leagues have illustrated by implementing instant replay, these objections don’t really make sense.

FIFA’s position is, essentially, that player and referee errors are a part of the game. That’s true, but it’s also idiotic. If you can eliminate some referee errors then you magnify the importance of the on-field performance of the players. Which, in the end, is the goal of all sports, right? Allowing the players to determine the outcome.

Just imagine what would have happened if England and Germany had been playing in the World Cup Final and England had lost after a missed goal like this.

Would the World Cup ever recover in this modern YouTube sports era?

I don’t think so.

That’s because HD television has fundamentally altered the game of soccer just like it has altered every other sport. Fans sitting at home can make instantaneous decisions about the legitimacy of soccer calls. When the World Cup began there was no television, no microphones on the referees that allowed them to communicate with one another, and no Internet community that magnifies every error to the point where those errors overwhelm the majesty of the matches themselves. In 1930, when the World Cup began, only those in attendance could know if a call was missed.

Now, in a moment’s notice, billions can post the errant video on Facebook, Twitter, or a blog.

A failure to allow instant replay isn’t a protection of soccer’s past, it’s a bastardization of soccer’s future.

And it isn’t really that complicated.

In fact, I’ll break down how it should work in five steps.

1. Immediately take all non-goal related decisions off the table for review in the midst of games.

That means the referees would maintain complete discretion to call fouls on the field and to issue penalty cards as they see fit on any plays that do not lead to goals. Examining, for instance, who the ball went off and whether a goal kick or a corner kick should be rewarded would remain entirely at the discretion of the referees.

Errors in these details, while unfortunate, would remain a part of the game. This would not be a system that would micromanage officiating.

Indeed, it would eliminate the need for replay in all but the most important of moments, that is when goals are scored. For 99% of soccer play there would be no stoppage for review.

2. Review every goal in real time.

The technology exists to make the entire goal light up as a ball crosses the line just as the goal lights up in the NHL when a puck enters the net. With chips in the soccer ball, the referee could see the goal light up the moment the ball passed the line and instant replay officials would immediately begin reviewing the footage even as the celebration continued.

For most goals, mere seconds would be all that was necessary.

A review would have shown Clint Dempsey was not offside when he scored against Algeria

Determining a goal in the NHL is much more difficult than determining a goal in soccer, yet the NHL manages to implement its system just about flawlessly.

Using instant replay would have taken about ten seconds for England to be awarded the goal against Germany.

In my opinion, offside calls that negate goals should also be included in this review.


Because with HD television all of us can see the shading mechanism on the field that demonstrates whether a player was on or offside before a goal was scored. Using this format wouldn’t have kept the United States third goal against Slovenia on the board — which was waved off via a discretionary penalty call — but it would have allowed Clint Dempsey’s first half goal against Algeria.

Again, the trigger for instant replay review only occurs when the ball enters the net.

At no other time would bit be involved.

3. FIFA already permits wasted time during the game and has a mechanism to allow additional time at the end of halves.

Two minutes or so over the course of a game would be a small price to pay for determining the legitimacy of each goal.

If FIFA is truly concerned about stopping play, why don’t they go after flopping and fake injuries aggressively? That adds at least six minutes or so to every match.

Reviewing every goal would add, at most, two minutes to your average soccer game, potentially less.

Isn’t that worth it?

Of course it is.

4. FIFA officials would probably welcome the change.

This is the real irony here, allowing replay review often strengthens the public perception of officiating.


Because in super slow-motion HD, as often as we recognize missed calls, we more often than not realize an official made the correct call. We’re only talking about a few missed calls here on goals or not-goals that have clouded the perception of the entire tournament.

Think of, for instance, the small percentage of NFL calls that are reversed. Using instant replay in the NFL hasn’t demeaned confidence in officials, it’s actually increased confidence.

The same would hold true in the World Cup.

What’s more, knowing that they won’t be castigated for an unintentional error that changes the outcome of a game often allows officials to relax and call a better game than they otherwise would.

My point: Instant replay doesn’t undermine officials, it increase their authority.

5. The appearance of corruption is vastly diminished.

Let’s be clear here, soccer officiating has a dirty connotation in much of the world. Part of that has to do with the global nature of World Cup officiating, there’s a sense that petty feuds and dislikes can lead to borderline calls going against your country. Put it this way, the World Cup makes NBA officiating seem above board.

For an American soccer fan it always seems as if we’re getting screwed somehow. Partly, that’s fan perception. We tend to see things in the light most favorable to our teams interests. But is there some legitimacy to anti-Americanism in soccer?

I think so.

Putting the most important plays in soccer — goals — up for immediate review would go a long way towards cleansing the palate of the taste of corruption.

Ultimately, scoring a goal in the World Cup is one of the rarest feats in all of sports. Amazing skill, tremendous team play, the perfect pass, the glorious shot, everything must coalesce at an instant of full speed fury to manage a goal. That’s why the transcendent joy that heralds the scoring of a goal is a moment like no other, you’ve just managed the most difficult feat in all of team sports.

Doesn’t FIFA owe it to soccer fans across the world to make certain that we don’t ever lose a single goal that should have counted?

Of course it does.

That’s why the World Cup needs instant replay.


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