FIFA on the line: the case for video technology

Come on FIFA – get a grip! A clear refereeing mistake like the one that denied the goal by Lampard (see the video if you missed it) must surely give the ruling body of international football the courage to implement video technology.  Poor rules lead to poor decisions and in the case of goal line technology FIFA have simply got it wrong.

Figure 1. Lampard's goal against Germany clearly crosses the line.

In a previous article on line calling systems I stated the case for and against the use of line calling technology.  My conclusion?

“In using advanced technologies, all we have done is change the decision to be made; we still have to make a judgement…..By all means have technology (I’m an advocate) at an appropriate level.  However, don’t expect it to be foolproof and don’t expect that decisions will be automatic.”

Tennis leads the way with the protocol for testing line-calling systems; back in 2003 the International Tennis Federation (ITF) realised that the ubiquity of slow motion replay and then the implementation of Hawkeye could lead to immediate discrepancies between what the audience saw and the decision made by officials.

Five years later in 2008, however, FIFA dismissed the concept of goal line technology following tests of video replay and the Hawkeye motion analysis system. It seems that the International Football Association Board (IFAB) were seeking systems that gave correct decisions automatically 100% of the time and claimed that neither video systems or Hawkeye did this (subsequently rebuffed by Hawkeye).

FIFA’s logic seems to be that any technology will remove the power of the referee or slow the game down.  Without the use of video technology, however, the referee can look foolish, and if he makes a wrong decision the game usually stops anyway due to the reaction of the players.

The rules of sport are arbitrary; generally they were set up in a completely different era and tend to struggle with current technology.  The task for any ruling body is to keep a balance between tradition and technology – too much tradition and the sport can become quickly outdated, too much technology and complaints are made that the human element has been removed.

In football, goal-line technology would give the referee the power to make a decision in line with the views of the majority. If FIFA are nervous just start with video replay; the dugout has it, the managers have it, the TV audience and the media have it, so why make the referee’s life harder?

If a ruling body has a poor understanding of technology, then generally it makes poor decisions  (think swimming suits, for example).  The first thing FIFA needs to do is to set up a Technical Commission to allow experts to advise them on all aspects of technology, much like the ITF and other ruling bodies. This will allow them to make considered decisions rather than have to react to public pressure.

In the meantime, goal-line technology seems inevitable.


About stevehaake

Steve did a first degree in Physics at the University of Leeds before landing two job offers: the first with BT turned out to be in a porta-cabin in the middle of a marsh, while the second was supposed to be image processing but was really smart-bomb design. This left a third option – a PhD in the mechanics of golf ball impacts on golf greens for a person who’d never hit a golf ball. It was a simple choice (the PhD if you didn’t guess) which led 25 years later to being head of a research team of 30-40 looking into similarly unlikely topics. Highlights of the career so far? The early years setting up the ISEA with the likes of Steve Mather, Ron Thompson, Clive Grant and Ron Morgan; the fact that the 1st International Conference on Sports Engineering in Sheffield in 1996 didn’t also turn out to be the last; and getting out the first issue of the first journal on Sports Engineering in 1998. The absolute high point, though, was being in the British Club in Singapore as a guest of the High Commission when the bid for the 2012 Olympics was announced. This has led to the team delivering projects with Olympic athletes that every scientist with a love of sport can only dream of. Steve is now a Senior Media Fellow funded by the EPSRC to encourage the public to engage in science, particularly in the lead up to the London 2012 Olympic Games.

7 Responses

    1. Steve Haake

      Yes, we were really outclassed by Germany. Of course there is always the ‘what-if’ to hold onto-if we’d scored to make it 2-2 then our chicken-without-a-head style may just have worked.

      Off to look at your website.

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