Technology and football: A reluctant partnership in waiting…or not?

So FIFA’s most powerful figures have finally given in to the worldwide calls from all corners of the world of football to introduce goal-line technology to aid match officials with their on-field decisions. The 2014  World Cup in Brazil has already been earmarked as the tournament where goal-line technology will be used and been endorsed by Sepp Blatter himself, but it begs the question: why in the 21st century has it taken football so long to not only acknowledge and embrace it, but to introduce it as part of the game by now?

Surely anything that will lead to fair decisions, help match officials, and eliminate doubt and controversy has to be a good thing? Cricket, rugby, and tennis all benefit from the use of video replays, albeit in their own respective ways, to decide key moments in the match the majority of which turn out to be the correct. Why then has football been so reluctant? Is it because of the cost to install the mechanism? Or the nature of the game being slowed down? Is technology not reliable enough? Or do the powers that be have something else to lose? Of course one has to consider both sides of the argument in this case and how beneficial technology will be for football in the long-term. However, surely the benefits outweigh the costs of not making use of the technology in the sense that it has been successfully tested before at youth level and proven that it can work.

For instance, perhaps the television or media production company covering a football match can provide the robust technology as part of their contract with whichever football authority negotiated the match coverage. The production company can then make a monitor available to the match officials for replay of “ball over the goal-line” incidents only for example. Furthermore, due to the fact that football is a continuous game, where human judgement is the main principal upheld by the referees and their assistants, surely technology would significantly improve the decision-making and cut out all manner of controversies we have seen in recent years.

Now, I am all for the human element to be kept within the game and I have come across masses of people who say taking away the referee’s decision making and leaving it all in the hands of technology takes away all the debate and heated arguments about controversial and key moments that could be critical, for example, to a team surviving relegation or qualification to the next stage of a major competition. Debates about referee decisions are part of the unique culture of the beautiful game for both players and supporters alike ofcourse. But should that be put ahead of correct and legitimate decisions that need to be made by officials, with the help of technology, in some instances?

The International Football Association Board (IFAB), which is the game’s law-making body, will meet in London in March to assess the latest testing phase of the technology. Then the IFAB will meet again in July 2012 when a decision will be made on whether or not to utilise the new system. The organisation itself is made up of the FA, Irish FA, Welsh FA and Scottish FA  – who all receive one vote – while FIFA, acting on behalf of the rest of the world, have four votes. With any decision needing three-quarters of the members to approve it, FIFA’s approval will be needed if the law is to change, which may prove to be a stumbling block.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has revealed that goal-line technology will be introduced for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The 75 year old ignored repeated calls for technology to be brought in following the controversy at the last World Cup in South Africa, when England midfielder Frank Lampard saw an effort ruled out against Germany despite the ball having clearly crossed the line. Since then however, a number of trials regarding the accuracy of goal-line technology and its potential impact on the flow of the game are still being conducted.

Goal-line technology in football has been in need for a number of years now, particularly when television replays retrospectively show wrong decisions by the referee. The IFAB has laid down four criteria that they want to see in goal-line systems: the technology should only apply to goal-line decisions; the system must be 100% accurate; the signal sent to the referee must be instantaneous and; the signal is only communicated to the match officials.

A promising prospect has been a ‘smartball’ loaded with a computer chip, jointly developed by German companies Cairos Technologies and the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits, an engineering research and software development company, along with the Adidas athletic clothing and shoe company. The companies’ technology uses a network of receivers around the field designed to track the ball’s precise position in real time – including exactly when it has fully passed the goal-line. That information would then be relayed in less than a second to a watch-like device worn by the referee. However, this system has had its setbacks, and another system using Hawk-Eye is being looked at.

Ofcourse one criticism of the use of technology is that it can slow down the speed of the game. However, the landscape in the world of sport is continually changing over the years, and the use of technology is just one of those areas that has made an impact in modern day sports.

For now though, with FIFA having promised a “definitive decision” on the use of goal-line technology to be made at this summer’s IFAB meeting, the world of football awaits with baited breath on what could be  a significant chapter on the horizon in the history of the game.

The Author

Khaya Moyo

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