It is perplexing as to why no football-governing body has embraced and employed video technology in the refereeing of football matches. Fans at home sit in agony as, seconds after an incident has occurred, they can see in detail the true course of events, while officials on the pitch are left to make split second decisions whilst being harassed by players and backroom staff. It is inevitable that some refereeing decisions will be incorrect; that is simply human error. But there is certainly the opportunity to reduce that inevitability to a rarity. The more minds, both human and electronic, at work on one decision, the better.
Newcastle V Liverpool – 01/04/2012
April Fools Day saw an important clash of sides very much involved in the chase of European football for the 2012/13 season. Kenny Dalglish, has already taken Liverpool into the Europa League, whilst Alan Pardew has lifted Newcastle far beyond their expectations to challenge for the final Champions League spot. But as is prominent in top-level football in the modern era, there were instances of referee-fooling on April 1st in the Magpie’s 2-0 victory that, once again, raise the ignored issue of video-technology in the refereeing of modern football matches.
In Sunday’s game, a frustrated Pepe Reina was sent off for head-butting Newcastle’s James Perch after the Liverpool keeper expressed anger at having been tripped; an offence that Perch was booked for. It was instantly obvious, from the side-on perspective that TV viewers held, and from subsequent replays, that Reina had only made a jolted movement at Perch, and that Perch had exaggerated the aggression. Now, that is not to say that Reina wasn’t asking for trouble; it is universally given that aggressive movements such as his are provocative and cannot be tolerated. But it is likely that Perch will be reprimanded for inciting a red card upon Reina and taking advantage of referee Martin Atkinson’s limited view of the incident.
The question is, why couldn’t the video used by the governing body to analyse the event, be used instantly by officials to influence the decision at the time? The far linesman was consulted, but ironically, he probably saw less than the referee did. Reina will now miss Liverpool’s FA cup semi-final tie against Everton on April 14th.
Video technology would also have helped the officials determine whether Danny Simpson was guilty of a handball on the line or not, a decision that was near impossible for the referee or linesman to give given their obscured view of the incident. With the incident being in the 16th minute, 3 minutes before Cisse opened the scoring, it has to be considered as a huge call in a game where Liverpool desperately needed three points.
We simply expect too much from officials if we want them to see incidents like that that happen so quickly and make on the spot calls without any assistance. Gary Neville was incredibly critical of the linesmen in the recent game between QPR and Bolton where Clint Hill’s header appeared to have crossed the line but was not given:
With the keeper jumping back and with bodies in the way it was always a tough call for the linesmen who was positioned on the wrong side of the keeper to have a clear view. Bolton went onto win the game 2-1 and although QPR’s solitary goal was offside nobody knows how the game could have played out if the Hill header was given early on. Regardless we at home saw very quickly, thanks to Sky highlights such as the one posted above, that the goal should have stood.
Technology in Sport
The use of an off-field umpire with access to video technology has become a prominent part of the modern, international forms of many sports, including cricket and tennis. It is important to highlight that international forms of these sports are far more lucrative financially compared to their domestic counterparts than the football industry; hence the change in hierarchical focus. Cricket reviews can be requested by all actors on the field, for a variety of different decisions. While the reviews can take a minute or two due to their complexity, they restore faith in umpires whose decisions are upheld, make the players more confident that the correct decisions are made more often, and create a fairer match. In tennis, video refereeing is faster and more simple. A few seconds can mean the difference between winning or losing a match. Both these sports have welcomed technological umpiring with open arms, and the elite players have accepted (with the exception of the Indian test cricket side) that it is now part of the modern game. In football, there is such a hole in the consistency, compared to other sports, of refereeing, that there must be a rethink on the proposals to introduce video umpiring in some form.
Technology in Football
The main argument against its introduction is the desire to keep the game of football free-flowing and without regular, unnecessary interruption. The modern game has become more and more intense and fast-paced and the fans have pushed this along, demanding a 90 minutes that doesn’t fail to hold their attention. However, accuracy in decision-making must be considered above the absolute entertainment of the fans; achieving the correct decisions should enhance the viewers’ appreciation of the game anyway. It is frustrating that impatience is keeping video umpiring out of the sport. In international rugby, off-field umpires communicate instantaneously with the match referee who can take advice and opinion as they see fit. It is a speedy process, and in fact provides more suspense and excitement than long breaks.
UEFA recently introduced touchline umpires whose job it is to monitor the goal line, providing more accurate decisions but still maintaining the probability of human error. Why not go further and put those umpires in front of screens to allow the eradication of that probability? There are so many situations that a referee could refer to an off-field umpire about for advice or informed decisions; the amount of stick some officials get, especially with the modern trend of verbal abuse and automatic discontent at decisions that do not go players’ ways, is disgusting. If referees were given the opportunity to either back their decisions up, or even make the correct one in the first place, then the game could certainly become cleaner and fairer. It is no good to look back to past events but to think of the times that off-field intervention could have changed the course of matches for the better of the sport, is painful. Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal against Germany in the 2010 World Cup still snags at the England fan’s memory. Slaven Bilic’s dive in the 1998 World Cup Semi Final against France that should have won him an OSCAR, instead earned Laurent Blanc a red card and a place in the stands for the final. The list could go on, or it could end, to an extent, with the introduction of video refereeing. If other sports can maintain traditionalism and continuity, then why cannot football?
Perhaps strides are being made as it is likely that FIFA are going to bring in goal line technology possibly as early as next season. Although it has taken so long for FIFA to acknowledge it’s importance and start to test hawk-eye equipment perhaps this could be the start of football finally accepting that it does have to modernize. One can only hope that goal-line technology will be the start of a technological revolution in the Premier League and football more generally that will improve the quality of the game and of its officiating rather than ruining its traditions.
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