The moment that most people will remember from Sunday night's Super Bowl was Eli Manning's 38-yard touchdown pass to Mario Manningham late in the fourth quarter. In fact, it's the catch, more than the pass, that will be remembered.
Because the receiver was being closely guarded by two New England players, he needed almost surgical precision to pull it off. The moment of truth that made the catch complete - the ball firmly in the hands of the receiver and both feet planted in the end zone - lasted a fraction of a second. The line judge gave the touchdown and then, as usual, the replays were examined and the call confirmed. From there, the Giants went on to win.
Ironically, the precision of refereeing in football came just a few hours after the comedic performance by soccer referee Howard Webb in the match between Chelsea and Manchester United in London. As a football fan, I think my post-Super Bowl depression stems not just from the natural end of another season, but also from the forced return to the farcical and ongoing scandal of refereeing in soccer. Compared to football, soccer can sometime seems to be an amateur sport. Or worse still, a professional sport run by amateurs.
The rules of football are complex. The types of infringement that players can commit fill hundreds of pages and, unlike with soccer, they can occur at any time and anywhere on the field of play. But in football, there's no such thing as a game that's hard to referee. Games are officiated by a team of seven referees, equipped with top-notch technology and with cameras covering every angle. It is precisely because the referees have no problem consulting each other and using replays when necessary that they wield such impressive authority. Most of their original calls turn out to be spot on. The players, for their part, don't go running to the referee, don't argue and don't whine over the calls. In one of the most aggressive sports that humans engage in, where it seems that violence is never far away, the officials are respected.
Soccer is a game that is built on fluidity of movement; it would not be practical or advisable to adopt the NFL style of refereeing wholesale. It is amazing, however, that soccer's governing bodies continue to drag their feet so shamelessly when it comes to implementing much-needed innovations in refereeing: goalmouth technology, replays and increasing the number of referees to five in every match. We are told that refereeing mistakes are part and parcel of the sport and that, over the course of a season, these things even themselves out. But there is nothing noble about a referee making a game-changing mistake in a match being watched by hundreds of millions of people.
In football, players and coaches have the right to challenge a decision. Sunday night's Super Bowl reminded me just how far global soccer is from meeting the challenges it faces in the 21st century.
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