Goal-line technology has been at the forefront of discussion in the beautiful game since the turn of the century. Human ‘judgment’ has always been integral to the ‘beautiful game’ and contentious decisions in terms of judging whether the whole of the ball has crossed the whole of the line have been a topic for debate that has dominated football discussions ever since Geoff Hurst’s ‘goal’ in the 1966 World Cup Final was wildly disputed by West German defenders.

FIFA, the governing body of world football has in the past shown reluctance to embrace technology in an attempt to reduce the errors which are part and parcel of the game. However, a high profile error in the FIFA World Cup 2010 exacerbated the problem in front of a global audience- in the last-16 tie between Germany and England. In the 38th minute, England’s Frank Lampard floated a ball over the head of Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer which struck the underside of the crossbar and came down past the keeper, but the match referee Jorge Larrionda and his assistant Mauricio Espinosa failed to see the ball had crossed the line.

FIFA president, Joseph Blatter, had consistently opposed the introduction of any artificial aids for match officials by claiming that to do so would impact on the “human” element of the game and its “universality”, removing the enjoyment of debating mistakes. However, following the mistakeBlatter apologized for the mistake by match officials, and Lampard’s “goal” became the catalyst for change.

It was not as if the technology was not available at the time- FIFA had been examining possible goal-line options including a Hawk Eye system and a chip placed in the ball for several years, but had decided to rule out the use of technology at a meeting of the International Football Association Board in March before the World Cup. In fact, Hawk Eye has been a part of cricket coverage since 2001 to try to predict the path of the ball after it had hit the batsman’s pad in order to help umpires adjudicate lbw decisions.

 

With FIFA finally approving the technology after extensive testing, we have HawkEye being used in all Premier League matches this season as an instant aid to referees in making decisions regarding goals. After more than a decade of campaigning for goal line technology, there was a sense of anti-climax because nobody really noticed. That did not prevent it from being called into action on the opening weekend- Aston Villa’s Fabian Delph beat the goalkeeper but saw his long-range effort strike the inside of the right-hand post and roll across the line.Television replays shown in the press box confirmed that referee Anthony Taylor had been notified that the ball did not cross the line at any point. +1 for Hawk Eye…

The HawkEye technology does provide the ability to provide a visual image when a goal is scored to ‘prove’ it was over the line. In reality, however, it is an indiscreet system thatwill go completely unnoticed on the terraces- all referees now wear a watch that beeps within one second if the ball crosses the line and thatis its only function at present.

Michel Platini, president of UEFA, never a fan of technology, groused recently that the technology would cost around €54m over five years to implement at 280 stadiums. However, the use of the technology in important competitions suggests that, barring any catastrophic technical problems, goal-line technology will eventually become the norm. It will quickly spread to the UEFA Champions League—at which point clubs in countries that don’t use the technology will be compelled to install it anyway for fear of being deemed unfit to stage a Champions League match.

Who says that the technology can’t spread to the rest of the fieldfrom the goal-line? If technology can be used to pinpoint a ball crossing a line, it can surely be used to determine whether an attacker is offside against a line of defenders, or whether the ball has crossed a touchline, rather than the goal line. Even though second-long delays for rulings on the validity of a goal are acceptable, pausing for every minor infringement could ruin the free-flowing nature of the sport.

No matter how good the technology is, there will probably always be a need for the humble human referee. Despite what the fans may chant from the stands, referees are able to divine the degree of danger in ugly tackles,unpick intent in handballs and calm fraying tempers in a manner no computer can; and they will plough on, unloved but uncomplaining, continuing to provide fodder for pundits in sitting television studios for a long while yet, because goal line cameras, whilst  welcome, solve only a tiny fraction of the refereeing mistakes made over a course of the season and don’t add anything to the viewing experience.

Progress is finally being made.Don’t get too excited and don’t think for a minute the debate is over- Pandora’s Box has been opened, and who knows what’s next…

By Shamik Mukherjee

 

 

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