Can Goal-Line Technology End The Debate?

posted 4 Jun 2013, 14:16 by Richard Brook

Originally posted here:

I was the last man standing, at the Triplex Club, in Birmingham, on the 27th June 2010. I was a sole figure cheering Frank Lampard’s equaliser that never was, before the wind deserted England’s sails as they slumped to a 4-1 defeat to Germany. The ball in Bloemfontein bounced several feet behind the goal-line, and as such the match officials on the day should feel an embarrassment even more acute than my own. As alone as I felt as realisation dawned that everyone else had returned their seats disappointed, I appear to be even more of a lone voice – in the dubious company of Michele Platini – in my opposition of technology in football including goal-line technology (GLT).

Football has had its fair share of white elephants, when it comes to rule changes over the years. American penalties, the fifth and sixth officials in the Champions League and golden goals spring immediately to mind. Although golden goals are older than most people imagine. The Wednesday – yet to take on the name Sheffield Wednesday – were the first scorers of a golden goal, in The Cromwell Cup in 1868. Indeed the only rule change that comes to mind as having dramatically improved the sport, as a spectacle, since my grandfather’s day, is the back-pass rule.

I have written before of my belief that football is a game of human error, in terms of the players, and that it is also – hopefully less frequently at least by way of decisive mistakes – in terms of match officials. As long as the mistakes are honest, by all concerned, I cannot see a problem. Even if GLT is successfully implemented I cannot foresee an end to the controversy that surrounds refereeing decisions – just a transfer of focus.

In a sport with GLT in place and getting 100% of decisions correct all I can see happening is players, chairmen, managers and fans bemoaning the offside decision that relegated them or denied them a trophy or whatever their situation might be. That is fine though because again that is a decision about lines that could be broadly rectified by a similar system of tracking. Then we get into the world of decisions on fouls and the award or non award of free-kicks and penalties. Were technology introduced for this it would have to take the form of video refereeing. This is problematic for reason of the need not to penalise a team by preventing a breakaway attack, for an incident that might not have been a foul. A further issue is the need to turn the clock back if the video referee then decides there was a foul. To expand on these points would only to be to go over ground I covered a year ago.

I was moved to write this piece when speaking with a fellow football writer who took issue with my final point a year ago – namely that English proponents of GLT might do well to remember the influence of a certain ‘Russian’ linesman, on the England football team’s greatest ever moment. My colleague’s position was that since technology was not available in 1966, the whole nation was aware that England’s only international triumph hung on a goal that maybe should not have counted.

Those words, “maybe should not have counted”, struck a chord and I began to wonder whether GLT will anything at all. The Community Shield will see the introduction of GLT into the English game on 11thAugust 2013, followed by the Premier League. Yet to mind there are a number of questions unanswered, which lead to a lack of clarity as to how GLT will operate if functioning correctly and also what will happen in the event of equipment failure?

Working under the assumption that the equipment is functioning correctly, the principal difficulty with GLT is in the methodology of testing it. The issue is that what the world of football seeks to do is find a system that better determines whether the whole of a football has crossed the whole of a goal line, which is better than either eye or cameras. Of course now we believe we have such systems, our only means of ratifying it is by eyes and cameras. The cameras one presumes will be of a higher frame rate than a television camera and better positioned but the point stands. It is a point that FIFA seem to have taken on board, as their GLT Testing Manual 2012, has such tests requiring 90% accuracy, while others must achieve 100% accuracy. There is an element of hair-splitting going on here, of course, of what is a genuine and well-intentioned attempt to improve the game.

What is really concerning so close to implementation, and something I can find nothing on, is what happens in the event of an equipment failure. For all the respective providers assurances about their various products robustness the simple fact is all electronic devices or systems from time to time fail. Discounting the facts that the ball, that contains the chip, being kicked sometimes at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour, and the fact this sometimes hits the post which presumably houses the sensors – technology sometimes fails.

What happens the first time GLT obviously fails? The scenario where the ball sweetly nestles in the net, but the referees watch does not vibrate or display the signal. Referees have the final say and can overrule the GLT system, so the goal would stand but what then? What would it do to confidence in the system? What happens if there is an equipment failure at one end of the pitch and not at the other?

What happens the first time GLT fails not so obviously? The scenario where a referee and his assistant can be excused for getting the decisions wrong but replays appear to conclusively show they have made an error. At the point that happens, would football be in any better a position than before GLT? – Arguably not.

The first time a manager or a player call GLT into question football is in no better position whatsoever, all that will have happened is that the referee will have been supplanted as the villain of the situation by the GLT system.

If there is a failure, either in pre-match testing, or during the game the teams involved could run the risk of being even more disadvantaged by a bad call than before GLT. Imagine the frustration if your club’s good goal was not given – while GLT was not in use due to equipment failure, and the next week a league rival are a awarded a goal, by GLT, that has disastrous consequences for your season. Imagine if GLT had been in place in South Africa but failed the pre-match checks ahead of the Germany game and Lampard’s goal had still not stood. Would anyone honestly feel any better about it?