Football has made a tentative step towards ending its long-standing resistance to the use of technology in assisting referees. It’s a significant move and I believe that increased use of technology could eventually result in better behaviour by players and managers, as well as more accurate decisions.
On 3 March the International Football Association Board (IFAB), which sets the rules of football worldwide, approved two types of goal-line technology for further testing. The technology determines whether or not the ball has crossed the line into the goal, ending refereeing mistakes which occur several times a season. Trials will take place between now and June with possible implementation to be approved at the start of July, probably too late for the 2012/13 season.
As goals are what really matter in football and because the location of the ball is an objective measurement, it makes sense for this specific technology to be tested before any others. However, once the principle has been accepted, there is scope to do much more.
One of the companies being evaluated, Hawk-Eye, will be familiar to cricket and tennis fans. Only the most staunchly traditional would argue that Hawk-Eye’s introduction has not had a positive effect on the umpiring of those sports. In addition, the technology has opened up various new types of analysis which are interesting for spectators and useful for coaches. In both cricket and tennis Hawk-Eye has reduced the number of disputes between players and umpires. Players are quickly learning when it is worth using one of a limited number of appeals to review an umpire’s call and when to accept the original decision. While video reviews do cause a short delay, they add to the drama. Technology admittedly reduces the role of the on-field referee or umpire but almost everybody accepts that increased accuracy is more important.
In football many of the important refereeing decisions are subjective, such as the awarding of a penalty. There are often claimed to be differences in the interpretation between individual referees and between leagues in different countries. While this may be partially true, with some sensible statistical analysis and sufficient political will it would be possible to use technology to improve the consistency of decisions significantly.
Eventually, players and managers should learn that their repeated and tiresome attempts to influence almost every decision will not work and they should devote their energy to playing more effectively instead.
There are those who argue that goal-line technology is expensive, that it is unproven and that not everybody will be able to use it at first. I remember citing similar reasons for not buying a mobile phone some years ago. I soon changed my mind.