World Cup Censors Stadium TVs

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ESPN is reporting today that FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, will censor instant replays on the large screens inside the World Cup stadiums, after footage of the first goal by Argentina’s Carlos Tevez in yesterday’s Argentina-Mexico match showed that Tevez was offside. The replay, which came in place of normally-scheduled “infotainment,” spurred the Mexican players to protest the referee’s call in real time. FIFA’s answer: No more replays inside the stadiums.

“This will be corrected and we will have a closer look into that,” a spokesman said today. “We will work on this and be a bit more, I would say, tight on this for the games to be played.” This comes amid mounting evidence of the game-changing fallibility of FIFA’s referees, who have made bad call after bad call in this year’s World Cup (see: Koman Coulibaly).

Soccer is one of the last sports not to use video replay technology to corroborate decisions by its referees. FIFA’s president, Sepp Blatter, has said that relying on replays would disrupt the “natural dynamism of the game” and, perhaps more significantly, he thinks it’s better for business, er, entertainment to leave fans guessing. After rejecting a free upgrade in his Geneva home to a new HDTV box, which has instant replay capabilities—and after a valid goal by England’s Frank Lampard was disallowed in Germany’s second-round drubbing of England yesterday—Blatter told journalists: “I like not being able to see things again, and prefer to try and guess what happened from one viewing, rather than confirm my suspicions by rewinding the live action and confirming my thoughts either way.” Really?

What happens when, byte by byte, footage of the most publicized, advertised, politicized sport in the world is available to audiences but not to referees? What of these apparent “blind spots” in sports, both accidental and enforced? This World Cup is expected to be the most-watched television event in history, with 22,750 hours of feed produced and SONY deploying new 3D cameras to film the matches. As FIFA buries its head in the sand, the world is watching—and wondering whether this uneasy marriage of access and willed ignorance can last. 

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