Soccerstoriesbook's Blog


THE REFEREE AS SOCCER’S ‘SUGGESTOR’

World soccer’s rules-making body will have a look at the controversial issue of video replays.

The International Football Association Board will discuss “Video Replays for Match Officials,” the final item listed among “any other business” on the agenda for its next annual meeting, scheduled for March 1 in Zurich.   It is not clear who placed the topic on the agenda.  The possibility of video replay has been vigorously opposed by FIFA leadership in recent years.

Other matters to be discussed are the idea of ice hockey-style penalty boxes for recreational soccer, protective headwear for male players, and a ban on players who reveal personal statements on their undershirt.

The IFAB is made up of four members representing FIFA and one each from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  [February 4]

Comment:  So the group that green-lighted goal-line technology has decided to take another peek under the lid of Pandora’s Box.

Chances are this discussion next month will be nothing more than just talk, but it leaves the impression that video replays in soccer are inevitable.

That would be a victory for those who want the referee and his assistants to get it right all the time, whatever the cost.  And who, really, wants to see a match decided by officiating mistakes?  But video replay isn’t going to produce perfection–camera angles lie and sometimes everyone in the stadium misses a reason to request a video review.

Above all, video replay would be a severe blow to the authority of the officials.  Suddenly, the referee goes from being The Final Word on the field to The Suggestor.  He or she would be looked upon differently by players, coaches, spectators and the media once an incorrect call is not only fully exposed but officially goes into the books as a blunder that has to be reversed.

The referee is ridiculed, reviled, even despised, as it is, but his authority, when wielded appropriately, puts him on a par with a schoolteacher adequately keeping an unruly classroom under control.  Diminish that authority, and the overall player-referee dynamic flies out of control.  And, obviously, video replay would be used only at the game’s highest levels; thus, the top officials would be the ones falling the farthest.  Once the public sees a decision by Howard Webb or Viktor Kassai overturned, on the field, before a filled stadium and a national or worldwide TV audience, the standing of every referee below is indeed diminished.

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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.