Soccer’s governing body FIFA bowed to pressure on Thursday when it finally approved the use of goal-line technology and agreed to allow Muslim women players to wear a headscarf.
The first decision followed widespread calls from players, coaches and the media, after a series of embarrassing high-profile incidents in which perfectly good goals were disallowed because officials did not see the ball had crossed the line.
The second followed international criticism after Iran’s women’s team lost their chance of qualifying for the London Olympics because they were not allowed to play a crucial match after refusing to take off their headscarves.
In both cases, FIFA and its rule-making body, the International Football Association Board, which unanimously approved the proposals on Thursday, had initially held out in the face of popular opinion.
The debate over goal-line technology lasted a decade as FIFA, led by president Sepp Blatter, insisted that human mistakes were part of the worldwide appeal of soccer.
In the case of headscarves, FIFA refused to lift the ban due to safety issues and because they were not included in the rules of the game.
The campaign to allow headscarves, already permitted in other sports, such as rugby union and taekwondo, was led by FIFA vice president and executive committee member Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan.
The UN had also appealed for the garment to be permitted.
“To all women players worldwide, congratulations,” Ali said in a statement. “We all look forward to seeing you performing on the field of play. Women’s football is on the rise and we are all counting on you. You have our full support.”
Blatter said that the turning point for goal-line technology was Frank Lampard’s infamous phantom goal for England against Germany in the 2010 World Cup finals, disallowed when it was clearly over the line.
A similar incident had a significant effect on the outcome of Italy’s Serie A title last season, when AC Milan had a goal disallowed in a top-of-the-table clash against Juventus.
Milan, denied a 2-0 lead, were held 1-1 and Juventus went on to win the championship.
“We didn’t have accurate systems in the past. After what happened in South Africa, I have to say: ‘Thank you, Lampard.’ It took me a day to recover, I was really down and shocked,” Blatter said.
Two systems were approved, Hawk-Eye, which is used in tennis and cricket and is based on optical recognition, and GoalRef, which uses a magnetic field and a specially equipped ball.
Tested exhaustively and the only survivors from 10 original contenders, both systems are capable of telling the referee within a second whether the ball has crossed the line or not.
They will remain optional, although FIFA has said that they will be used in its own competitions, starting with the Club World Cup in December and including the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.