FIFA: Consider the open source model

In this World Cup, as in past tournaments, referees have made numerous, game-changing poor decisions on goals and possible goals. Tevez scoring from offside against Mexico, Dempsey ruled offside against Algeria, Lampard’s tying goal against Germany not being over the line are just three examples from this time around.

Just as in the past calls have come in again for technical assistance to be adopted and just as in the past FIFA are saying no. FIFA decided in March that technical solutions will disrupt the flow of play or cost too much to be deployed at all levels of competition and using them only at the national team and professional competitions will rupture the universality of play. After the round of 16, with the disallowed English goal, the possibility of using two goal line assistant referees, as trialled in this past season’s Europa League, was allowed as a future change.

Let’s separate technical assistance into two options: instant replay and sensors. Instant replay has not worked well in the NFL but somewhat better in the NHL. Regardless of the quality of the decisions in both leagues the decisions simply take too long but since the broadcasts can go to commercials, which would otherwise require TV timeouts, there’s some relief. I agree with FIFA leadership, though, that with currently available systems instant replay would be too disruptive to play in soccer.

Sensors are another story and I think FIFA are missing an opportunity here. I’m sure the cost of the recent systems with which they did experiments are quite high but their mistake was going to the big sports equipment makers for the solutions. Instead, FIFA should open an X Prize-like competition to spur development of inexpensive, open source hardware and software.

The software, especially, should be open source, not only to get a lower price tag but also to ensure against tampering and other malicious interference. One has only to look at the recent troubles with electronic voting software for a good comparable.

Additionally, the software system can be strengthened by running a master copy server and requiring a fresh copy be downloaded to the game server just prior to kickoff. The download can be validated by a one time key or biometrics.

Given the near universal appeal of soccer even among geeks I think this prize competition would be enormously popular and in fact drive improvement in sensor software and results processing for many uses beyond sport as well.

So Sepp, what do you say?