The debate about the use of technology in football has been around for a while now. Obviously, the big blunders we saw in the England-Germany and Argentina-Mexico games have brought the issue to the fore once again.
There was an interesting discussion on the topic on the World Have Your Say program aired on BBC radio a couple of days ago. You can check out the podcast on this link. It is the 28th June program titled, “Should all sports at the top level embrace technology?” There were many speakers from different countries talking about various sports. I had the opportunity to present my two cents and, if interested, you can my thoughts just after the half hour mark. I’ll cover whatever I said and build on the details in this article.
I must say I’ve thought about the use of technology quite often. As Arsenal fans, we’ve suffered a lot at the hands of refs, and often that leaves me wondering if technology would have helped us.
The way I see it, there are two extremes; the present situation with virtually no role of technology is on one end and unlimited referrals for all kinds of decisions is at the other. I don’t think either is an acceptable state.
We’ve all seen the problems with the present state so I won’t dwell on that. If we end up using technology for each and every decision it will certainly kill the flow of the game. It’s not hard to imagine a 90 minute game lasting three or four hours if we start referring all doubtful decisions.
Clearly, the ideal solution lies somewhere in between. Goal line technology has been mentioned as an option. I’m not convinced about it because given the cost involved, the benefits aren’t that good. If I’d to make a guess, I’d say less than one percent of games have controversial goal line decisions. There were 380 games in the Premiership last season; can you remember four controversial decisions that would have benefitted from goal line technology?
Then there are other complications with using goal line technology as the only tech help. Against Germany, Lampard’s strike was from open play. But it could easily have been a free-kick. Imagine a situation where a free kick goes in and out and the goal is awarded using technology. At the same time replays show that the free-kick was incorrectly awarded and should have been given the other way. In such a situation we would have technology giving a goal to one team, while the other suffers as we only use it for goal line decisions.
I believe any technology based solution should satisfy three main considerations,
- Make a tangible improvement to the fairness of the game
- Must not introduce too many delays
- Should not be very expensive
The referral system used in Tennis seems to be the best solution. If the Manager of each team has just one unsuccessful challenge available to him per game it would make a world of difference. This should be limited to big decisions like Goals, Penalties, Red Cards, and Second Yellow Cards. I think more than one game changing decision going wrong in a game is extremely rare so we don’t really need to refer all minor decisions or worry about too many referrals.
Implementing the referral system would be tricky. For instance, a manager might feel an opponent was off-side. In such a case, when should he refer? I’d say referrals should be allowed when the game stops for a goal, penalty or a card. If the player was indeed marginally off-side but it didn’t lead to a goal or other major event (happens quite often) then what’s the point in stopping the flow of the game.
Then there is a question of controversial decisions that don’t lead to a pause in the game. For instance, a team might have a legit penalty claim but the ref waves play on. I think at this point the manager must have a right to bring the game to a stop and ask for a referral.
Since there is only one incorrect challenge available to a manger they are not likely to waste it on frivolous claims. We can be relatively confident that the referred decision merits another look. The referral could also be invoked if the manager thinks an opponent deserved a Red Card.
I think Arsenal could really benefit from this. We probably lost 8-10 goals last season because we didn’t get some stone-walled penalties. I also feel this could be useful in incidents like the one against Bolton where the thug put his knee on Fabregas’ face and pulled his hair. At least knowing that a referral system exists will definitely serve as some sort of a deterrent to the thug teams.
The referred decisions should be seen by the fourth ref or another ref on a TV screen and there should be a 30-60 second limit on the time he can take. If the replays are not conclusive then we just move on and the original decision stands.
Since this would be limited to big calls only, chances of managers using the referrals as a time wasting tactic are low. Even if they do use it I think it’s an acceptable downside for a much fairer game. After all there are plenty of time wasting tricks that make us cringe when we see them. If we have a problem with gamesmanship those are the tricks we need to eliminate, not a solution that improves the fairness of the game.
To my mind this seems the simplest solution. The matches that don’t have TV cameras won’t be able to afford any other technology based solution anyway, so we can’t really think about them at this point. All other games that are covered by TV will have fairer games.
Like any other system, this isn’t perfect. I don’t pretend that this is the only or the best solution. Nor am I deluded enough to think that all the problems will go away and no new ones will be created. But considering all factors I think this system deserves a trial. It should be implemented in a couple of lower leagues or junior level competitions and the results should be measured. We can then have a clear idea of the kind of delays that are introduced into the game, the improvements can be measured, any new issues that might arise can be noted, and an objective analysis can be done regarding the way forward.
I also believe technology should be used for some retrospective decisions. For instance, diving must be punished if proven by replays. It doesn’t matter what the ref saw on the pitch or what he felt, if the replays clearly show a playing taking a plunge without contact he should get a 3-5 game ban that increases for repeat offences.
Similar punishments need to be handed for playacting and such other problems. We can’t have players clutching their face and then peeking at the ref before continuing their theatrics. It’s abominable.
Once the players know that the authorities are serious about taking action, diving/gamesmanship is likely to go down on its own. I think most players do it because they see others getting away with it. It’s a negative spiral that’s sucking more and more players in. Once a strict system is introduced we are likely to see a positive spiral and more and more players will be cautious about their acts on the pitch.
Having said all that, I still don’t feel positive about the use of technology. It’s not that I don’t believe it can help, as this article demonstrates I’m sure technology can help football. The reason I’m sceptical is that more than the actions of players and refs, football suffers from the archaic nature of administration. I just can’t see them doing the right thing.
Arsene said, “I just feel we are historical monuments that can’t move forward.” I can hear you say, “my sentiments exactly!”