Monday, June 28, 2010

The Stupidity Of Hidebound Conservatism, FIFA Edition

If there's one thing that the 2010 World Cup has become known for, it is, shall we say, "controversial" refereeing decisions. In the group stage, there were several iffy red cards handed out, not to mention the goal that for unknown reasons wasn't a goal. Now that the elimination round has commenced, the refs have upped the ante, counting goals that shouldn't count and not counting ones that should. It's an ongoing and embarrassing display of officiating incompetence from an organization that claims to be the global arbiter of the sport, and unsurprisingly fans aren't happy and demand for the use of instant replay and other technological solutions has increased.

FIFA head/dinosaur-in-chief Sepp Blatter has responded to the controversy in the time-honored manner of sclerotic European bureaucracies from Portugal to Poland, waiving off objections like so many a disallowed goal. Egregious ineptitude in enforcing the rules of the game? "Part of the human nature of our sport", according to Blatter. Seeing a tightly contested match decided by a blown call? Merely spice for post-game analysis as something fans will "love to debate".

These sorts of arguments are patently absurd. It's not necessarily the referee's fault if he can't enforce the rules correctly - there are twenty-two players and a lot of field to cover, and only one of him (which is part of the problem). But given that technology that would allow him to do his job better is readily available and could be implemented tomorrow, one cannot help but conclude that FIFA is an organization that is not only utterly incompetent in its stated mission (enforcing the rules of the game fairly), but unapologetically and even defiantly so. Would we accept this logic in any other walk of life? Should we tell pilots they're not allowed to use radar to help them safely land their planes, since human error is part of the nature of aviation? Should we tell brain surgeons they shouldn't use precision, laser-guided instruments in performing their operations since human error is part of medicine? (On second thought, that might not be a bad idea if Blatter were the patient - we'd give him a chance to live out his philosophy in another arena of life, and as somebody who's already functionally brain-dead he wouldn't stand to lose much).

I follow several other sports that employ technology to help the officials do their jobs (ice hockey, football, basketball, etc.). While stoppages in the game in order for the referees to review a close play are sometimes annoying, I don't think they've ruined the game, and I'm hard-pressed to think of anyone I know who does. Most fans want to see the outcome decided fairly, by the actions of the players, and if we have to wait a few minutes while the referees go to the tape to make sure that happens, so be it. Blatter and his fellow do-nothings may wish to continue living in the Stone Age, but most soccer fans do not. Conservatism - whether in a serious sphere like politics or religion, or in the realm of a trivial entertainment like sports - should be about seeing that necessary changes to traditional structures are undertaken slowly and carefully, not about clinging to outdated ideas for the sake of tradition, no matter how stupid the advancement of knowledge reveals them to be. But for Blatter and far too many people like him, the latter is exactly what conservatism is. For FIFA, a World Cup final decided on a missed call to change things. But what about for our governments, our schools, our institutions of knowledge and research?

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