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Op-Ed \ John Haydon

Blatter aims to end Cupís Academy Award performances.

By John Haydon
Special to SoccerTimes

(Sunday, July 12, 1998) -- Players who try to win penalty kicks by diving in the goal area or feign injuries with dramatic acting had better watch out. Sepp Blatter, the new boss of FIFA, soccer's world organizing body, wants the disciplinary committee to use video replays to assess serious fouls and controversial decisions.

In the past, the disciplinary committee has rejected Blatter's idea, but that could change for two reasons. First, Blatter recently was elected FIFA's president, which means he wields lots of power. Second, the ejection of French defender Laurent Blanc from Wednesday's World Cup semifinal against Croatia might have been a watershed moment for those promoting the use of replays.

Blanc was thrown out by the Spanish referee for pushing Croatian defender Slaven Bilic in the face as they chased a loose ball. Bilic collapsed to the ground, clutching his head. What the referee didn't see was that Bilic was hardly touched, but it was clear on tape.

Blanc was certainly guilty of some rough play, but the Croatian's Oscar-worthy performance influenced the ref and turned what could have been a mere caution into a red card, giving Blanc a suspension and forcing him to sit out todayís championship game. If Blatter gets his way, players like Bilic could be the ones suspended in the near future.

Two earlier incidents in the tournament got Blatter's attention. Tapes clearly showed Dutch striker Dennis Bergkamp stomping on a Yugoslav defender and a Moroccan player leaving cleat marks on the thigh of star Brazilian forward Ronaldo. Neither of the offending players was punished by the disciplinary committee.

Referees are under more scrutiny than ever and obviously use some help. Television cameras capture the action from every angle, and slow-motion replays reveal things referees may miss. And, to be fair, refs sometimes spot things that cameras miss.

The video replay from the World Cup television feed seemed to contradict American official Esse Baharmast's decision to award a penalty kick to Norway after forward Tore Andre Flo appeared to be pulled down by Brazilian defender Junior Baiano in a first-round game.

Commentators around the world quickly judged Baharmast and accused Flo of taking a dive. But a Norwegian camera crew filming from a different angle revealed footage that clearly showed Flo was pulled down. This time the referee had seen something that nearly everyone else had missed. The image of the play was even put on the Internet by the Norwegian film company.

"We think this is the first time a dispute like this has ever been solved by the Internet," said Odd Kodefloss, the film's producer.

John Haydon is soccer columnist for the Washington Times and can be e-mailed at haydon@twtmail.com.

Articles and opinions expressed by other columnists are not necessarily the opinion of SoccerTimes.