Common sense 0 Neanderthals 1

Football chose to keep itself in the dark ages by closing the door on the use of technology to help referees with goalline decisions yesterday.

The decision had been made after two competing systems – Hawkeye (as commonly used in tennis and cricket) and Cairos (which uses a chip inserted in the ball) – outlined their proposals to a meeting of the International Football Association Board (IFAB).

After the meeting, FIFA general secretary Jérôme Valcke said:

“A decision was made not to go with technology. Technology should not enter into the game. It was a clear, clear statement made by the majority of the IFAB.

“They are saying why should we have technology in a game where the main part should be humans: players and referees.

“If we start with goalline technology then any part of the game and pitch will be a potential space where you could put in place technology to see if the ball was in or out, whether it was a penalty and then you end up with video replays. Let’s keep the game of football as it is.”

“Whatever the mistakes – and, yes, there are mistakes – people will review the match and discuss what happened, but there was a clear statement that technology should not enter the game.”

Stuff and nonsense. It is one of the most blinkered, self-serving arguments I have ever read.

Technology – or at least the use of video replays – is now utilised successfully in many major sports, including tennisrugby, American football and cricket. Traditionalists often argue that sports which use technology tend to be stop-start in nature and therefore more accommodating of disruptions, and there is certainly an element of truth in that. But rugby, like football, is a largely organic, flowing game, which has successfully taken technology on board by limiting the use of replays only to assist the referee in adjudicating borderline tries, and I do not know one rugby fan who thinks this has been anything other than a change for the better.

And remember, yesterday IFAB were merely reviewing the use of technology specifically for goalline incidents – essentially, no more than rugby does. Not for highlighting potential red card incidents, or for determining penalties, or handballs, or offsides, or any of the other myriad of uses replays could assist with. The proposal covered only those instances where it is unclear whether the ball has crossed the line, which would affect only a tiny percentage of games.

Valcke’s ‘thin end of the wedge’ argument simply does not wash. FIFA and IFAB are in charge of the rules of the game; they have ultimate say over what technology is used for. Rugby’s authorities have demonstrated you can apply replays in a limited but meaningful way without damaging the human element of the sport one iota. In fact, it is arguably more human because it increases fairness within the game.

Scottish FA chief executive Gordon Smith made a similar point, suggesting that it is not so much the need to keep football ‘human’ as a culture of ‘traditionalism’ within football which is responsible for obstructing potentially helpful refereeing aids.

“I think if there’s anything that improves the decision-making of the referee, if it’s simple and can be used at the time, then I have nothing against it. The referees suffer because of technology – because of television replays. If there was technology in place it would actually stop referees having to suffer from bad decisions. We should be looking beyond this human element side of it because the human that suffers the most when the decision is incorrect is the referee. And the fans suffer and a team suffers.”

In the NFL, the use of video replays has routinely prevented injustices in high profile games, including the Super Bowl. There are strict rules about what the technology can and cannot be used for, and the authority of the officials is preserved by the premise that the ruling on the field stands unless there is incontrovertible video evidence to the contrary. As a result, no one respects the officials – and the NFL uses seven on the field in games – any less; indeed, replays generally show just how often they get blink-of-an-eye decisions spot on. It is a wonderful example of how video technology, used sensibly, can be used to support rather than undermine.

With a delicious irony, the value of goalline technology was underlined in yesterday’s FA Cup quarter-final at Fratton Park, where Birmingham had what appeared to be a legitimate goal disallowed after Liam Ridgewell had headed the ball ‘in’.

An understandably unhappy Alex McLeish said afterwards:

“FIFA are doing their officials a disservice. I know you can’t stop every part of every game, but for key decisions in a major competition technology should be there.

Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger also criticised the IFAB decision, saying:

“If you love football, you want the right decisions to be made. I just do not understand why we rule that out. It is beyond comprehension for me that you can do that.”

In the meantime. IFAB will decide in May whether to pursue the system of having an extra two officials on the pitch who would be stationed behind each goalline – essentially a roll-out of Michel Platini’s idea of having two Additional Assistant Referees (AARs), which is currently being trialled in the Europa League. While this is undoubtedly a step in the right direction – the use of AARs would almost certainly have resulted in Thierry Henry‘s ‘Hand of Frog’ being spotted in France‘s World Cup playoff against the Republic of Ireland – it is only a partial solution to a much wider problem. Humans make mistakes and cannot see everything, particularly when trying to spot the position of a ball which may be travelling at speeds in excess of 100kph (62mph) through a crowd of bodies, and the AAR system has already proved fallible. (In a case of mistaken identity, Fulham‘s Brede Hangeland was shown a red card against Roma before the officials finally realised the error and correctly sent off Stephen Kelly instead.)

Ho hum. I have seen glaciers move faster than FIFA. Do not expect them to succumb to the charms of technology any time soon. Yesterday was yet another victory for the Neanderthals. The worst part of it is that this came as no surprise at all, and that the overwhelming ‘no’ vote included both the Welsh and Irish FAs – you would think the FAI at least, having raged with such indignant uproar after the playoff defeat, would have been a bit more supportive of the proposals.

Sod’s law now says that a crucial game at this summer’s World Cup – perhaps the final itself – will turn on a debatable goalline incident that will fire up the debate once again. On the one hand, I hope the tournament is not marred by such a controversy; like all fans, I want the World Cup to be a memorable success. On the other, I really hope it does.


About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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