Soccerstoriesbook's Blog


BRAVE NEW WORLD: HYBRID OFFICIATING

Soccer’s rule-making body, the International Football Association Board, has approved the use of technology to confirm whether a ball has crossed the goal line inside the goal.

The technology will be introduced at the FIFA Club World Championship in Japan in December and will be in place for the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup and 2014 World Cup, both to be hosted by Brazil.

Also OK’d was the use of five-man officiating teams.  That concept, which involves a goal-line judge on each end of the field, was tested during last season’s UEFA Champions League and the 2012 European Championship.

Two different technology systems–Hawk-Eye and GoalRef–were unanimously approved by the Board during its special meeting in Zurich.

According to FIFA, Hawk-Eye, a British system already in use in cricket and tennis, employs six to eight high-speed cameras set up at different angles at each end to calculate the exact position of the ball.  The data is then transferred to video software.  From this data, the system generates a 3D image of the ball’s trajectory.  The officials are informed whether a goal has been scored within a second.

GoalRef, a Danish-German system, creates the radio equivalent of a light curtain.  Low magnetic fields are produced around the goal, and as soon as the ball, fitted with a compact electronic device, fully crosses the line, a minor change in the magnetic field is detected, thus allowing the exact position of the ball to be established.  If a goal has been scored, an alert is transmitted to the officials via a radio signal within a second, with a message displayed on their watches and by vibration.

The English Premier League, which is expected to employ one of the systems, estimates the cost at between $200,000 and $250,000 per stadium.  [July 5]

Comment:  There are two soccer worlds:  one in which hidebound traditionalists live and one populated by progressives who welcome things like goal-line technology.  The only common ground is that everyone wants the officials to get it right, especially because the final score is likely to be 2-1 rather than 115-98.  No room for error.

It has been said that soccer already uses technology:  the headphones that connect the referee, assistant referees and fourth official at major matches.  But this latest move by the International Football Association Board doesn’t just crack open Pandora’s Box, it rips the lid off its hinges.

What the introduction of the Hawk-Eye and GoalRef systems does is give us hybrid officiating.  In a sport played by humans and officiated by humans, one aspect has been turned over to machine–and why, in the pursuit of perfection, stop there?

The infamous not-allowed goal by Ukraine at Euro 2012 aside, the incident that created the biggest hue and cry for goal-line technology was the shot by England’s Frank Lampard in the 2010 World Cup round of 16 that was clearly in the goal to everyone looking on–except the referee and his linesman.  Egregious and inexcusable and, for FIFA, embarrassing.   It is highly questionable that the correct call–something Hawk-Eye and GoalRef would not have missed–would have changed what was ultimately a comfortable 4-1 victory for Germany over the English.  But what of all the hundreds and thousands of calls and non-calls made during a 32-team, 64-game tournament that lasted more than 100 hours?

Get Lampard’s goal right, but what of the fouls that should have resulted in a yellow card, the yellow card that should have been a red, the red that shouldn’t have been anything at all, the dive in the box that went unpunished and, especially, all those offside calls.  Why invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in an effort to get one kind of decision right when a game turns on so many other decisions that rest in the hands of the referee and his assistants?

So expand technology.  It can be done.  Go to Soccer Stories: Anecdotes, Oddities, Lore and Amazing Feats and read about some of the other gizmos at the ready, including the Belgian system that can detect offside through sensors embedded in the players’ shinguards.  It’s all never-ending, and thanks to the International Football Association Board’s ruling in this case, it won’t be.

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