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June 29, 2010

Blatter paying lip service to problem

By Andrew Warshaw

Sepp Blatter's decision to re-open the file on goal-line technology marks a stunning U-turn that was prompted by universal condemnation following what is being described in football circles as Black Sunday.

Sepp Blatter: Under fire once again
GettyImagesSepp Blatter: Ecstatic that South Africa proved themselves to be capable World Cup hosts

• Blatter open to technology
• Forum: Time for technology?

But before we all get too excited at the FIFA president bowing to global outrage following Frank Lampard's 'goal-that-wasn't' for England and Carlos Tevez's offside goal against Mexico, a little caution should be exercised.

This isn't the first time the publicity-seeking Blatter has reacted to media scrutiny and worldwide pressure in order to buy time. Announcing that FIFA will have another look at technology may have appeased fans across the world but all it does for the moment is give Blatter precious breathing space.

Why, otherwise, would he make such a statement based on one day of controversy when in the past he has been so vehemently opposed to introducing technology without being convinced of a foolproof system?

Perhaps the answer lies in Blatter's own future. The canniest of operators, he knows full well that with his presidency up for renewal next year, any popularist stance he takes now can only improve his chances of staving off any rival.

And where does this leave UEFA president Michel Platini, once a strong ally of Blatter but these days very much his own man and considered in many circles to be a political foe?

It was Platini who argued that football should press ahead with an alternative system to goal-line technology. The experiment of using two additional assistants - one behind each goal and trialled in last season's Europa League - was Platini's pet plan but its future now seems in jeopardy since it is highly unlikely two separate methods would run concurrently.

Ironically, an extra official behind Manuel Neuer's goal would undoubtedly have spotted Lampard's effort in Bloemfontein on Sunday that would have brought the scores level at 2-2 and possibly prevented the eventual humiliation that Germany piled on Fabio Capello's team. Equally ironically, the referee at the heart of the controversy, Uruguay's Jorge Larrionda, was conspicuous by his absence at an open training session on Tuesday attended by the media.

Almost all the officials involved in the World Cup were there but not Larrionda who, we were told, was "recuperating". Also conspicuous by his absence was Italy's Roberto Rosetti, the other referee everyone wanted to speak to after he outrageously failed to give Argentina's Tevez offside. Rosetti had taken a "personal decision" not to attend the session.

It was left to Howard Webb, being touted as a possible contender to referee the World Cup final, to speak up for his colleagues. "I understand technology is something the international board will be looking at," Webb said. "It's not up to us. We work with the tools that we are given and concentrate on doing the best job we can within those guidelines.

"We will have to see which way they decide to go forward. I go out there to do a job without any technological assistance and that has always been the case in all my time as a referee. My only concern about it would be if we introduced a stop-start culture in football. But I certainly don't feel any additional assistance would undermine my position."

Hawk-eye technician
GettyImagesHawk-Eye is already in use in other sports

In the meantime, we await the next move. The only body who can implement goal-line technology is the International FA Board, comprising FIFA and the four British associations. They hold a preliminary meeting in Cardiff next month followed by their main annual meeting, also in Wales, in March.

Nothing can be implemented until then at which time a decision will have to be taken whether to use the Hawk-Eye system employed in tennis and cricket or the concept of a micro-chipped ball being developed in - irony of ironies - Germany.

The 2014 World Cup seems the most likely start date if the green light is given, but Blatter still isn't sure about which system is preferable. Hawk-Eye, he said, "was not 100% efficient because there can be moments when, if maybe a goalkeeper's body is in the way, the camera cannot see the ball."

Paul Hawkins, managing director of Hawk-Eye Innovations, rejected that. "It's 100% accurate," he said. "Hawk-Eye has been independently tested by the Premier League and the International FA Board, and shown to work in all instances tested."

Hawkins hopes Lampard's disallowed goal will provide the spark for goal-line technology to finally be brought in but has his doubts after years of being fobbed off by football's administrators.

"I'm not cracking open the champagne yet," he said. "The issue now is whether FIFA are really serious about having a proper look at this or whether they are just trying to diffuse the situation until after the World Cup - and then block it again."