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Fifa's cynical foul on football

Soccer's chiefs have bowed to pressure and promised goal-line tech at the World Cup - but don't expect the game's ugly side to disappear

The planet is 90 per cent ready for its next big festival of sport. The 2014 World Cup in Brazil is starting its countdown, after wrapping up qualifying rounds over the past two weeks and completing the final-round draw yesterday. But buried beneath the growing hype and excitement is the fact that the World Cup ranks among the least technologically advanced international tournaments when it comes to refereeing. Football is easily the world's most popular sport, but it's nowhere near being the fairest.

Two controversial goal-line incidents marred a recent qualifying game between Ethiopia and Nigeria. One led to a disallowed goal, while in the other the ball was adjudged to have crossed the line. Both proved to be wrong decisions. Fifa, football's governing body, will be quick to claim that no such controversy will be allowed to spoil next year's action in Brazil, where goal-line technology will be used for the first time.

But Fifa's obvious pride over the introduction of GoalControl has only further antagonised its many critics. The fact is that it will take much more than goal-line technology - which is simple to apply - to make football a genuinely fair sport. In the past couple of months, controversies over whether the whole ball has crossed the line can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand. Other match-changing controversies are far more numerous and are being conspicuously ignored by Fifa.

Next year's World Cup will, as usual, feature "offside" goals that should have been allowed, red cards that should not have been flouted, penalties wrongfully awarded and goals that, when studied in TV replays, are anything but legitimate. Fifa has for many years now ignored measures that could right these wrongs, saying, like a broken record, that it does not want to disrupt the flow of the game.

Allowing goal-line technology flies in the face of that claim. If Fifa is ready to delay the game by one or two minutes to determine absolutely whether the ball has crossed the line, what is the problem with the same kind of stoppage if a player is facing a red card or if there is a question over whether a goal is offside? It would take the fourth official just 30 seconds to determine whether a player "dived" or if a goal has been scored from an offside position.

The truth is that Fifa loves controversies, although it publicly says it doesn't. Thanks to this attitude, football has spawned a rivalry among fans that is a lot fiercer than in most other sports. A constant background chatter of supporters' quarrels and hypocrisy over goals, red cards and "diving" feed soccer's popularity. But transforming injustice into fun is an achievement that no one who has true love for the game should be proud of.

Fifa has condemned diving and other non-sportsmanlike behaviour on the pitch. It doesn't seem to realise that its refusal to enforce on-the-spot video reviews of contentious incidents has encouraged these ugly practices. As of now, players will rather dive and risk being punished later if their theatrics can win games. And their fans, equipped with Fifa-installed hypocrisy, will continue to support the guilty players even if they are found out and punished retroactively.

Football has been the world's most popular sport for generations and will remain so. The governing body is no doubt proud of that. But perhaps Fifa should also consider that, under its watch, the game has often been famous for the wrong reasons.


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