The Unwanted Big Brother of Football

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Football fans may remember the under-21 European Championship qualification match between Italy and Slovakia. The Scottish referee deprived the young Slovaks of a penalty and later sent off two of their players for soft tackles. For similar reasons, the Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura made headlines on the first day of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. By coincidence, both matches ended 3-1 to the home team. However, if the referees could have consulted video replays, the results could have been very different.

Football federations promised to review the issue of video replays after mistakes by referees have caused several controversies over the last few years. However, those who are looking forward to enjoying every detail of the European Championship 2016 in front of the TV might be disappointed. Even viewers will have to do without video replays of questionable offside decisions on TV, as, under the threat of financial penalties, TV broadcasters cannot draw lines on the screen to show the position of players in the decisive moment. It is the result of the latest UEFA ruling that will deprive onlookers from knowing the truth.

Another issue are video replays used during the game. Many other sports are using them, including ice hockey and American football. It could easily be adopted in football without wasting too much time. In a TV debate, Slovak football expert Milan Lesicky explained: "I don't see a problem why the fourth official can't be at a screen and communicate with the main referee and the TV crew at the stadium". Calling and reviewing the situation should not take longer than 60 seconds; not much longer than it often takes to consult the linesman. A student can go online during a lesson and get the answer to a teacher's question, why not the referee?

Marcel Merčiak, a popular Slovak TV commentator, called UEFA's ruling a step backwards. Another commentator said that the ruling was made in order to cover up the mistakes of the referees. But why should footballing mistakes be covered if elsewhere in life technology works toward revealing them?

While waiting for a tube in London, we were politely reminded by an unknown voice that we are constantly monitored by CCTV cameras for our own security. It sounds almost like a novel by George Orwell. Cameras are used at cash machines, in banks and in shops to identify theft. Yet, if you deprive a team of victory in an important match, isn't it also stealing? Often, in professional football there is much more money at stake than one stolen football shirt from a sports shop or even the balance on the average bank account.

We should use technology to move toward fair play, not against it. It is used in every walk of life, sometimes even against our will. At some work places, you are monitored by cameras and admonished by the manager when you have a minute's rest. However the same manager, if by coincidence a co-owner of a football team, would not mind if his team won thanks to a ‘mistake' made by the referee.

In ancient Greece, people played sport for honour; now they use it to make money. In both cases sport was abused as a tool toward prestige and power. Emperor Nero cheated and blackmailed to secure himself the victory in a horse cart race in Olympia. Unfortunately, he had many followers amongst the ruling classes, just as football's leaders today do, and who use sport as a machinery for making money and earning a reputation as the ‘big brother' of fair play.

Erik Redli is a university graduate from Slovakia who lived in London for much of his graduate life. Read more of his posts here and follow him on twitter @erikredli.

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