19 July 2018
Sepp Blatter has blocked technology to improve the accuracy of referees' calls in football. Photo: AFP
Sepp Blatter has blocked technology to improve the accuracy of referees' calls in football. Photo: AFP

Why football has been slow to adopt high tech

The English Premier League has secured a 5.14 billion pound (US$7.84 billion) deal for the rights to telecast its matches in the next three years.

It is the most expensive sports rights deal ever, at almost double the price paid for the television rights for the 2012 London Olympics.

This demonstrates again that football remains the world’s most popular and commercially valuable sport.

However, it’s also the least advanced mainstream sport in terms of the technology used in matches.

Nowadays, each match is shot by several hundred cameras at various angles.

Therefore, it should be fairly easy to prevent any potential miscall by looking at the replay.

However, football continues to merely depend on the eyes of the referee, when basketball and baseball have already introduced video replays to assist referees and umpires.

Many football players, fans, coaches, commentators and referees have been calling for the introduction of video replays to the game.

However, Sepp Blatter, president of football’s international governing body, FIFA, has firmly opposed the call.

Blatter said misjudgment is part of the game, as it makes a match more dramatic and can prompt heated debate.

He also claimed that video technology may be unaffordable for developing countries and lower divisions.

However, both his arguments are not well-grounded.

The biggest attraction of football is definitely not miscalls.

And the technology can be applied only in top-lit matches.

Blatter eventually compromised and agreed to introduce the hawkeye system to decide whether the ball has crossed the goal line at the World Cup in Brazil last year.

FIFA’s president for 17 years, Blatter is a controversial figure. He has been under great pressure from allegations about corruption in the bidding to host the World Cup.

Interpol is making inquiries about the murky circumstances surrounding the awarding of the 2022 tournament to Qatar, a desert country with temperatures above 40 C.

Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda, controlled by billionaire Wang Jianlin, recently announced it will buy Swiss sports marketing firm Infront Sports & Media with a group of investors for US$1.19 billion.

Infront holds exclusive broadcasting rights to some of the world’s biggest sporting events, like the football World Cup, in most Asian countries. The firm’s chief executive is a nephew of Blatter.

Blatter has managed to win election as president of FIFA four times in a row.

In order to be eligible, a candidate has to be publicly nominated by at least one of FIFA’s 209 national federations. And Blatter has been focusing on wooing the smaller countries to obtain a nomination.

But he got only about a hundred votes in each election.

Blatter, 79, has announced he will stand for the next election, to be held May 29.

This time, he faces three rivals: Dutch federation president Michael van Praag, Jordanian Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, who is a FIFA vice president, and Portuguese football great and former Ballon d’Or winner Luis Figo.

Blatter is very likely to win a fifth term but faces strong opposition because of the corruption allegations stemming from the bidding for the 2022 World Cup.

If he fails to win the election this time, football might see a transformation.

Apart from video replays, various new technologies could be introduced to prevent miscalls in the game.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 12.

Translation by Julie Zhu

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

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