PARIS (AP) - In the era of eye-in-the-sky satellites that spy on the Earth and telescopes that peer ever-deeper into the cosmos, it seems astounding that we can’t hear much of what soccer players say to each other on a field. Perhaps it is time for some “Big Brother” surveillance in soccer, too.
More well-placed microphones, why not even broadcasting sound from the shirt lapels of referee Chris Foy and his assistants, perhaps might have helped determine whether John Terry racially abused Anton Ferdinand in Chelsea’s ill-tempered 1-0 loss at Queens Park Rangers on Oct. 23. Even if on-field recordings could not capture every exact word, maybe players would think twice before directing tirades at each other and at officials if soccer was more wired for sound, like rugby and other sports.
The idea of broadcasting match officials’ on-field words to players, as rugby does, is not on soccer’s agenda. The sport’s lawmakers last looked at this in 2004. The minutes of their meeting show they were happy for officials to talk to each other by radio during a match but they decided that “such a system … must not be used for broadcasting purposes.”
No surprise there. FIFA is hardly a trailblazer on the use of technology. Its progress is excruciatingly slow on picking which system soccer will use to determine when the ball crosses the goal line. And Thierry Henry will likely be an old man before soccer’s ruling body accepts video replays that could have punished his hand ball that broke Irish hearts in 2009.
Still, that shouldn’t stop us from exercising our imagination.
If players wore microphones, we might all have heard the “certain word” Patrice Evra accused Luis Suarez of racially abusing him with when Manchester United played at Liverpool. That was a month ago, which is a long time for such an ugly allegation to hang unresolved over the Premier League. Liverpool’s striker denied it. United stuck by Evra. Which of them is telling the truth must wish there was audio to prove it.
But wiring up all 22 players would be overly intrusive, technically tough and of questionable use, at least for broadcast purposes. A smarter middle route would be to broadcast at least some of what referees hear and say. That was tried with astounding effect in the 1980s, when David Elleray wore a microphone for Millwall-Arsenal. It recorded Gunner Tony Adams squealing at Elleray and calling him a cheat when he disallowed an Arsenal goal.
In Australia, officials looked into repeating something along those lines this season. They felt that broadcasting referees’ comments to players might help spectators Down Under, where soccer isn’t the No.1 sport, better understand what’s happening and improve on-field discipline. FIFA said no to the Australian federation’s initial feelers, but “there’s still work being done to possibly bring it in, as a trial, not as a leaguewide standard,” A-League spokesman Mark Jensen said in a telephone interview.
“The possibility with using microphones for referees and having that audio available is that players might realize they are being recorded and tone it down for their image sake,” Jensen said. “If you see Wayne Rooney, you know, screaming offenses at a referee for a decision, kids watch that and pick up on that and they think it’s OK. So putting things in place to possibly curb that is only good for future generations.”
In the Canadian Football League, coaches and quarterbacks of the Toronto Argonauts and Winnipeg Blue Bombers agreed to wear live microphones for broadcaster TSN for a preseason game in June. TSN built in a 10-second delay so it could interrupt the audio if the language got salty.
“As it turns out, we rarely used that,” Paul Graham, TSN’s vice president and executive producer of live events, said in a telephone interview. “You could hear the coaches talking to the players on the sidelines and conferencing in with their assistant coaches, and you could hear the quarterbacks talking to their teammates in the huddle and then making their calls.”
“From a viewer perspective, it was certainly entertaining,” he said. “From a league perspective, worth the experiment, but I would be lying if I said they weren’t nervous throughout the whole ordeal.”
So, if soccer wanted, something could be done.
If they knew more people were listening, perhaps potty-mouthed, ill-tempered and abusive players would be more likely to hold their tongues.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org or follow him at twitter.com/johnleicester.