Keeping Score

Why Twitter Is Not Transparency

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The only thing more frustrating than the controversial late-game foul call by Malian referee Koman Coulibaly, which cost the U.S. a miracle comeback victory against Slovenia (the Americans settled for a thrilling 2-2 tie), might be FIFA’s failure to explain went wrong. Coulibaly refused to comment on the call after the game – in fact, FIFA requires its refs to hide behind its protective wall. What did Coulibaly see? Was it just an honest mistake? Hey, if he just came out an apologized, the world would surely show him some sympathy. No one is perfect.

But we may never know what happened. Today, FIFA Sepp Blatter president turned to Twitter for a “response.” He wrote: “Thanks for all the questions on refereeing. My views on improving refs and video technology are here”  The link directs you to a statement he made in March, explaining why he there would be no instant replay at the World Cup, or anywhere else in world soccer.

Put aside, for a second, the head-scratching arguments Blatter makes against technological aid. Like this one: “One of the main objectives of FIFA is to protect the universality of the game of association football. This means that the game must be played in the same way no matter where you are in the world. If you are coaching a group of teenagers in any small town around the world, they will be playing with the same rules as the professional players they see on TV.”  Sepp, why so puritan? Give humans a little credit. No reasonable youth soccer coach expects instant replay to be installed for town league. Players, coaches, and fans won’t think any less of the globe’s most popular sport if the World Cup let television quickly settle disputes.

Or this: “Fans love to debate any given incident in a game.” Yes, all sports fans love debate. But here, there’s no debate.  There’s just outrage. Coulibaly obviously got it wrong. No one loves outrage.

And put aside Blatter’s crying about cost. “The application of modern technologies can be very costly, and therefore not applicable on a global level,” Blatter says. Seriously Sepp? FIFA is money machine. The organization made a $196 million profit in 2009, and amassed $1.061 billion in reserves. FIFA is has already guaranteed South Africa an $80 million profit for the World Cup.  Plus, the incremental cost of replay at the Cup would be minimal. Cameras already cover the field for television broadcasts. If the whole world already knows a call is wrong right away, why can’t the guys on the field be clued in?

Put all that aside. Maybe you even agree with Blatter’s position. Still, couldn’t he have offered more transparency about this specific incident than a tweet? Especially a tweet that links a boiler plate web page from March? We get it: you don’t like instant replay. Fine. But this isn’t about instant replay. This is about a call that could prevent a team from advancing in the World Cup. A strong leader would respond to the criticism.

A tweet is just weak.