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FIFA shows it's still leery of instant replay

Martin Rogers
Yahoo Sports

International soccer chiefs fear they could be subjected to legal action from disgruntled players or teams after finally bringing the game into the 21st century by implementing technology aimed at cutting out unfair goal decisions.

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Goal-line technology is aimed at preventing an obvious mistake, like this Ukrainian goal that wasn't.

While other sports such as tennis and football have for years embraced an instant replay system, soccer has been slow to catch on, leading to a swathe of negative publicity following embarrassing mistakes from referees in big games.

Yet even though soccer's governing body FIFA has given the green light to two systems that will ascertain whether or not the ball has crossed the line and therefore be awarded as a goal, it immediately acted to protect itself from any financial backlash.

FIFA demanded that GoalRef and HawkEye, the two systems that it granted approval for use, each obtain an insurance policy that indemnifies FIFA against any legal challenge for recompense in the event that the technology gives incorrect information.

FIFA head Sepp Blatter was told by his advisors that while no club or national team could ever mount a legal appeal to even an awful refereeing decision because of human error, any failure in technology that produced an erroneous result could lead to a lawsuit.

That led to a clause in the FIFA regulations insisting on a policy that "should provide sufficient insurance coverage for claims being raised by third parties due to the licensee's activities or omissions."

Goal-line technology, which was approved by FIFA in July, will make its debut in top level competition at the Club World Cup in December, is likely to be brought into the English Premier League next season and is certain to be used at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Still, the insistence on such an insurance policy, that will also provide cover if any of the equipment damages a player or anyone else, shows the caution FIFA has shown when it comes to this matter.

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Already stringent controls have been imposed on the two companies allowed to provide the service, which admittedly has ensured products of outstanding quality. GoalRef uses a microchip placed inside the ball to track its whereabouts in relation to the goal line, whereas Hawkeye, used in tennis and cricket and originally developed for military purposes, uses an advanced series of ultra high-tech cameras. Both systems transmit a signal to a special watch worn by the referee to inform him in just a few seconds whether a goal should be given or not.

Speed of decision was one critical factor as FIFA wanted to avoid any kind of delay to the pace of the game. Yet while that was a worthy aim, it also shows FIFA's general initial resistance and many feel this move does not go far enough.

The last World Cup featured a moment of embarrassment when England's Frank Lampard had a goal disallowed even though it had clearly traveled some two feet over the line in a second-round defeat to Germany. This summer, England was the beneficiary of a blown call during the European championships when a valid Ukraine goal was not counted.

Still, there are other scenarios that will not be covered by the technology, such as Carlos Tevez's clearly offside goal during Argentina's victory over Mexico in the 2010 World Cup, a situation somehow missed by the officials. Similarly, penalty decisions for fouls or handballs, as well as red and yellow cards, are not able to be reviewed.

Hawkeye claims its product has been soccer ready for 10 years, but the sport has repeatedly looked the other way. The most recent idea aimed at resisting technology was to place an extra referee behind each goal, yet that did not eradicate mistakes.

It was originally thought only one product would be chosen, but both GoalRef and Hawkeye were so effective and accurate during rigorous testing that they could not be separated.

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