Football is a game that’s played at a frenetic pace and although it is a game spread across ninety minutes, all it takes is one second to swing the match the other way. As the season draws to a close, these moments in the game have a way of altering the future of not only the two clubs involved but also the clubs up and down the table. A goal by a team at the bottom could lift them out of the relegation zone and at the same time deny a team in the top half a spot in Europe. And they carry more value when it comes to knockout competitions.
But as the clubs captivate its supporters with magical moments that create legends instantly, there are moments where one man will literally be thrown into the limelight and his capabilities questioned. Not a player, not a manager, but a match official. The sport has seen its fair share of bizarre decisions that have been analyzed and dissected for years.
This season has not been without its fair share of terrible decisions. To name a few; Jack Rodwell sent off in the Merseyside Derby for a legitimate tackle on Suarez, QPR’s Shaun Derry getting his marching orders for a foul that wasn’t, Wigan denied points at Stamford Bridge thanks to a lack of offside calls, QPR denied a goal against Bolton in spite of the ball crossing the line and most recently, a Juan Mata ‘ghost goal’ at Wembley that gave Chelsea a 2-0 lead over Spurs in the FA Cup semi-final.
As the season draws to a close, these kinds of decisions are scrutinized and criticized more than others as the future of a club is at stake. These decisions have called for technology to be used in football. But that begs the question; what can be a sure shot way of eliminating errors while at the same time retaining the sanctity of the game?
This is one aspect of technology that FIFA is dead against. Although it is used heavily in sports like cricket (with the help of a third umpire) and basketball (where the referees are allowed to watch the replays on monitors at courtside), it would not be feasible to have it in football as well. The game thrives on continuity and non-stop action. And the last thing one wants is a referee being forced to ‘go upstairs’ for every other foul or offside call.
But we can’t ignore the fact that it does help in the case of allowing legitimate goals to stand. We’ve seen on a number of occasions where the ball has crept over the line or crossed it but the linesman was not in a position to spot it. But this will again result in a stoppage in play as officials deliberate over replays. So this is definitely out of the question.
Goal Line Technology
Goal line technology seems to be the innovation that is closest to being implemented. In fact, just last month the International Football Association Board gave the go ahead to two parties – Hawkeye and Goalref – to proceed to do more testing in various scenarios.
HawkEye is a technology that is already used in cricket and tennis. It consists of multiple cameras placed in various locations on the field to track the ball’s position. The software is so accurate that only 25% of the ball is required to be visible to track it. Complicated image processing algorithms then determine the ball’s relative position. But a decision can be made only after watching a replay. This will obviously slow down the game and further testing is required to ensure that decisions can be made quicker. The second round of testing will be done to ensure that the referee gets a signal from the system indicating that the ball has crossed the line – within one second.
GoalRef is a system based on magnetic fields. There are two opposite magnetic fields on either side of the goal line. The ball has an electronic device embedded in the ball. As soon as it crosses the line, a change in the magnetic field is detected by antennae behind the goal which instantly sends a signal to the referee’s watch. This requires changes to be made to the pitch and goals to install the system. Although this has been deemed effective and accurate, concerns have been raised regarding the transmitter inside the ball and whether it can be dislodged inside the ball resulting in wrong decisions that could have a margin of error in mere millimeters.
Technologies that missed the cut
Goalminder was one system that had high speed cameras installed on the goal posts and cross bar. This is almost akin to video replays and was not considered a solution for the on field referee to make an instant decision.
Cairos GLT system partnered with Adidas to design a ball with a sensor inside which was detected by cables carrying current buried in the box and behind the goal line. This also used magnetic fields that ensured the referee would be notified within a second.
An alternative – Extra match officials?
UEFA competitions have seen 2 assistant referees stationed near the goal to ensure that goal line clearances and fouls in the box do not go unnoticed. This is a very viable option if Leagues are willing and able to get extra officials for each and every game. The probability of an incident going unnoticed or unpunished is diminished by the presence of an extra official. It does give the officials more than one angle to look at incidents.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter was once quoted saying, “Other sports regularly change the laws of the game to react to the new technology. We do not do it and this makes the fascination and popularity of football.” Many would say that FIFA needs to progress into the 21stcentury like all other sports and prevent costly mistakes by the match officials. They need all the help they can get.
With close to 30% of decisions being wrong in the Premier League last season, and plenty more controversies in the current campaign, technology in football couldn’t have found a better time to announce its arrival.
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