The quarterback gets the snap, lobs it to the corner of the end zone, the wide receiver jumps up….. it’s a catch! But did he get his feet in? Let’s look at the replay. Over 25 years ago on March 11th, 1986, the National Football League (NFL) introduced “instant replay” into the sports world (Wired, 2009, p.1). This recording technology has slowly worked its way into professional basketball, tennis, baseball & many other sports around the world. Soccer, often called Football outside of the United States, is one of the few sports that have resisted the temptation to introduce technology to the officiating of its games. Although the implementation may make the game more precise, this resistance has kept soccer “pure,” embracing its imperfections and old tradition.
To put it in the most basic of terms, instant replay is “a recording of an action in a sports event that can be shown on television immediately after the original play happens” (Merriam-Webster, 2013, p.1). Instant replay may appear to be nothing but a tool to help officials make the right call, but with benefits comes consequences. One of the consequences of instant replay is an intense slowdown of the time it takes a sporting match to be completed.
For example, in the NFL, a 2010 study breaking down a four-game playoff marathon (around 12 hours of broadcast time) resulted in fans watching on average for each of the four games: 67 mins of players standing around, 17 mins of instant replays, 11 mins of actual playing time, and 3 seconds of cheerleaders (The Wall Street Journal, 2010). When replays take up more time then the “live game,” our priorities, as players, announcers, and fans clearly need to be adjusted. Focusing on these replays often takes the attention away from what is currently going on in the game, which in my opinion takes away from the joy and passion that comes with sport.
NFL football, although hugely popular, can’t compete with the fluidity and beauty of Soccer football. The word “beauty” is often thrown around loosely in describing soccer because of the games continuous ability to surprise. With soccer, the fans have two 45-minute halves sandwiching a 15-minute break. The clock never stops and in many respects, the players and ball never stops.
This elegance of 11 players on each side keeping continuous play of one round ball for minutes on end, making passes and runs, and connecting 45-yard balls is where the “beauty” of the game is established. The simplicity of the game is what makes it so special. This simplicity can’t be compromised by technology, which in turn would cloud the games purity. “The beauty of sport is its humanity and the sense that it is peopled with people and not automatons.” (The New York Times, 1989, p.2). Berkow in his New York Times editorial puts this idea in the simplest of terms, stating that people play and officiate sports, and to take just a little part of that away is when sport loses its integrity.
The technological advances in sport and society in the last 30 years have been unimaginable and the biggest challenge society has had is to know when to use these technologies. The first official rules of soccer were drawn-up by the English Football Association in 1863. Nothing much has changed since then. (Livestrong, 2010, p.3). There is a great source of pride and passion knowing that rules have been roughly the same since this time. The requirement of the players and referees to have the stamina to run for 45 uninterrupted minutes is truly demanding. It requires a dedication not only physical but spiritually, knowing the game has been virtually the same for over a 120 years.
The biggest promoters of instant replay technology has been media companies in every sport that instant replays exist. But why? One of the key reasons is the opportunity to stop games and therefore play more commercials, which results in more profits for the networks. The New York Times commented in 2010 that its important to “never stop the game (of soccer), because that leads to television sticking its grubby commercials where they do not belong.” In fact, purists actually spit up at the thought of “The Beautiful Game” being interrupted by referees peering at replay video screens (NBC Sports, 2010, p.3). Also from a purely technical approach, there is absolutely no time periods long enough to review any calls. Referees often have 3-5 seconds to make a call.
This constant demand to make a call and keep the game flowing is not only what makes soccer beautiful but is how the game needs to be officiated. “Test cricket, for instance, is made up of 540 separate moments of play — balls — each day; tennis is a series of points; rugby has regular breakdowns” (Sports Illustrated, 2010, p.1). Other sports have this segmented structured to them, which give them these constant opportunities to review or questions calls. All else aside, soccer can’t have instant replays implemented because that would mean the entire structure and rules would have to change along with them.
Many soccer fanatics, particularly in the 2010 World Cup, which there were multiply questionable calls, are fed up with referees missing/making bad calls. Certainly, an argument can be made that instant replay may help change a bad officiating decision. But “indisputable visual evidence” to overturn a goal or call by a referee on the field could result in a 5 minute pause, which results in the referee returning to announce that there is no conclusive evidence, so the call on the field remains. How satisfying is that to any spectator or competitor?
The “human error” element of game is sometimes an issue but also is a beautiful part of the game. If we had technology run every call, the element of surprise within the game would be lost. There is nothing better than teams fighting back from a few bad calls to come out on top; this ability of athletes to overcome obstacles (bad referees) makes watching soccer all the more worth it. Yet the controversy remains and the fans will continue to be mad at the referees.
In the modern age technology is viewed as a solution to almost anything. If you have a hot room, buy an air conditioner to cool it down. But is soccer’s problem that black and white? Can we implement instant replay and we will fix the underlying issue? “The main difficulty underlying the use of technology to solve social problems is that these problems are fundamentally different from technical problems” (Society and Technological Change, 2014, pg. 31). Now many may argue that officiating mistakes aren’t a social problem, but something like soccer so ingrained into society and culture makes for a different situation.
People world-wide have a loyalty and in their mind an obligation to the sport even though many never even step on a field. The implementation of instant replays could cause an absolute outcry world wide because we would be trying to “fix,” (missed/wrong calls) something that doesn’t need fixing to begin with.
In many respects, Soccer is and has become a universal language. Spanning across the globe with over a thousand professional leagues, most ever country has at least one professional league for people to view. Other sports are also played worldwide but not nearly at the magnitude that soccer is at a professional level. Instant replay, if implemented in soccer, would completely change the playing field and spectator’s view of the game. Tarnishing the 100 years of soccer world-wide may cause a loss in the universal language that has been cherished and appreciated for so long. An even playing field for every professional team is just another beautiful part of the game that cannot be tampered with.
Finally, I believe soccer allows fans and announcers to get lost in the game. Almost removing themselves from all external forces such as social media, texting, and technology in general and putting focus on the simple game of “football.” Other sports give you the ability to stay distanced from the game because the most critical points will always be showed over and over again between plays, sets, & points. With no stops or ability to look away, real soccer fans stay true to their selves when their team is on because otherwise they may miss something spectacular. The absence of technology in soccer is just another reason why the game is so simple, yet so beautiful.
So risking an occasional bad call to retain the fluidity of the sport is something I embrace. “If one picture is worth a thousand words, moving pictures can speak volumes.” (American Journal Sports Medicine, 2007, pg. 358). The real world has mistakes and the real world doesn’t stop for a 60-second commercial. I vote yes for the real world and all its warts, particularly when it results in allowing myself and the rest of the world to watch and play in the world’s most popular and beautiful game!
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