Time for a third eye?

December 6, 2006
(Archive)

Technology. It has changed our lives dramatically over the past decade. The mobile phone, internet and television all play important parts in modern life, so why then when it comes to officiating professional football, do the powers that be find it so hard to embrace?

EmpicsFIFA chief Sepp Blatter has made his views clear on video replays.

This season, more than any other, has seen the call for the introduction of a video referee ring loud across the Premiership's stadiums.

There can be no doubt that technology vastly improves a person's ability to view an incident. Whether it is retrospective, or immediate, the fact is that without a camera, most of the incidents that happen in football these days would go unnoticed.

However, the debate rages whether this technology can be used to benefit the game, or would simply slow it down, and FIFA president Sepp Blatter has wasted little time in making his own views perfectly clear on the matter.

'We have to keep the human factor and that includes refereeing error,' he told a Soccerex football finance seminar in Dubai last week - adding that the introduction of a video ref would 'stop the game'.

And he has some powerful backers. David Dein, vice-chairman of Premiership club Arsenal, has thrown his weight into the argument claiming that 'the game has to flow,' while UEFA Chief Executive Lars-Christer Olsson has also added that the introduction of goal-line technology is 'far enough'.

Blatter and company are happy for an instant goal-camera to be used, and indeed this will be the case in this year's World Club Championships, but stop short of a complete technological overhaul of the game.

Olsson makes the point that: 'The goal-line system is in real-time, but we are concerned that video-refereeing would stop the flow of the game.' He has also added the fact that a video official would undermine the on-pitch referee, and it is easy to see why he might have a point.

Goal-line technology may take an instant to solve a dispute like Roy Carroll's infamous blunder against Tottenham in 2005, but a rugby or American football-style video referee would almost certainly hold up the game.

Football is the type of game that relies on fast flowing, high-tempo action and an emotionally-charged atmosphere. It does not lend itself to long breaks and would lose the interest of the fans if the decisions took too long.

Invariably they would do. And as with most forms of technology, there would be a fair few problems to deal with. The last thing any fan wants is to wait around for someone to fix the link between the referee and the gantry.

Time-scale aside, there are many other factors involved.

It is easy to see why on-pitch referees would be unsure of their position in the shadow of a third eye. Given that the video official would have the aid of a camera, the referees would struggle to compete with every decision they make subject to technological scrutiny.

Not only would their decisions be questioned, but also the decisions they didn't refer upstairs. Doubling the amount of criticism they would receive.

There would also be added opportunities for commercial involvement on the idle video screens, something that football's governing bodies are keen to avoid.

Blatter, himself, favours more training for match officials. But that isn't the problem. You can train a referee until you're blue in the face, but it won't help them see an off-the-ball incident at the other end of the pitch.

Referees already undertake intensive training and are regularly scrutinised on their performances, as the demotion of Dermot Gallagher to the Championship showed after he failed to send off Ben Thatcher for violent conduct.

However, after a series of questionable decisions in the Premiership, there have been calls from managers including Arsene Wenger and Mark Hughes to take the debate one step further and introduce a video referee.

The Premier League have also given their backing to the idea and want the video ref to resolve offside disputes, penalty claims and off-the-ball clashes.

It's not in question that officials could do with some help, yet bringing in a video referee for every Premiership game would be unworkable. Not only would there need to be more referees employed, chances are that the game would be held up by the constant referrals.

Furthermore, Premiership managers already question and berate officials on the touchline, the last thing they need is another reason to do so.

EmpicsThe Arsenal manager will be crucial to the future of the club.

But the fact is, technology can be of use - albeit in a limited capacity. It would certainly be beneficial for action to be taken retrospectively; while this would not help in the context of a match, it could help in ridding the game of some of its less desirable aspects.

Diving in particular could be wiped out overnight if all it took was a quick meeting at Soho square, a one-match ban for the offender and a fine thrown in for good measure.

The FA have already shown a degree of success in analysing tapes for elbows and reckless challenges, so what is to stop them from using it for simulation as well? A 'naming and shaming' policy would go a long way towards persuading the likes of Ronaldo and Diouf to stay on their feet next time, backed up by hundreds of camera angles and a competent official behind the screen.

Evidently, the ability for a referee or assistant to determine whether the ball has crossed the line or not would be of use. However, initial trials didn't go well, and we'll just have to see how the World Club Championships go. The fact that it happens so rarely may hinder its development, but in theory it would be a good use of technology.

Nothing is perfect. Video certainly wouldn't be if it was implemented across the country; but there is a degree of scope for success.

Small steps to start with. Bringing in technology to solve goal-line issues and to help stamp out diving and cheaters would be an excellent start, but it will be a long time before you see a video referee at a football game, especially if Blatter remains in charge of FIFA.

For once, the powers in football are thinking straight. There have to be many more trials before a video referee can be considered, and it has to be proven that goal-line technology works first. Currently the game flows with passion and while there is constant desire for perfection, we'd miss those 'water-cooler' discussions about the outrage of last night's game.

Nobody is perfect, and that's what makes football the way it is. With Blatter in control, it's staying that way, for now at least.


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