Following the outcry surrounding France’s World Cup play-off victory over the Republic of Ireland, FIFA had little option but to re-examine the arguments in favour of video technology.
FIFA and president Sepp Blatter are starting – at last – to accept the necessity of technical assistance for referees.
Thierry Henry, inadvertently, has done the sport a huge favour. When he controlled the ball not once, but twice, before setting up William Gallas’s contentious goal for France against the Irish Republic in Saint-Denis, he also pushed the sport over the brink.
Football’s strength down the last 150 years has been its conservativism in defending the original precepts of what one of its 19th-century rule-makers entitled The Simplest Game. His successors have not felt so many other sports‚ need to pursue popularity by changing the definitions or the scoring system.
Blatter has defended that tradition down the years in insisting that technology would compromise the universality of a game which should retain the same nature and character whether being played in front of 85,000 in Soccer City or in front of two men and a dog on a recreation ground.
But the furore sparked by Henry’s Main de Dieu has created a tidal wave of pressure which even Blatter, it seems, dare no longer resist in defending the game‚s credibility.
The hint was in his rhetorical diatribe after FIFA’s executive met in emergency session here in Cape Town. The issues for discussion were the latest match-fixing scandal and issues arising out of November’s World Cup play-offs, both the risks inherent in the system and the refereeing crisis precipitated by the Henry incident.
Blatter said: “The executive committee was of the opinion that we are at a crossroads. Where shall we go with refereeing in the future ˆ because the game, especially at the highest level, is so tense that it is impossible for one referee with two assistants and the fourth referee to see everything?
“Should we have more assistants, like the Europa League experiment or should we go to technology? Is it time now to open the file on technology or shall we go with what has been done so far and add more human beings?
“So the executive came to the decision that actual refereeing is no longer consistent with the quality and the speed of the game and the close interest taken by television. First of of all we shall have a look at technology or additional persons and this shall be done across all our relevant committees.”
One certainty is that the extra-assistants experiment in the Europa League will not spill over into the World Cup.
As for Henry, he now awaits a retrospective judgment by FIFA’s disciplinary committee while the Irish, according to Blatter, deserve “a moral prize”.