Can Technology Really Make The Game Better?

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!”

17 Responses to Can Technology Really Make The Game Better?

  1. jaygooner says:

    Excellent piece Desi. I believe thats why Blatter is between a rock and a hard place over goal line technology/technology in general. How many games are ruined by stop/start/stop/start persistent fouling that the referee and his assistants rightly spot, but the team doing the fouling have factored it into their game plan? The “halfway line” foul is a long used tactic, for example. I can already see Tony Pullis and FatSam calling for technology replays every time a team counter attacks, were such technology to be introduced. In cricket, you can call for the “third” umpire, but that takes time. Replicated in football. all momentum of the play would be lost, so that couldnt work. The idea of a limited number of referrals could work though, but again I am sure the cheats would find a way to use that to their advantage.
    Use of TV/Video evidence to retropectively change a decision only seems to be used when Arsenal players are involved lol (Paul Davis on the Southampton thug Glen Cotterill being an example).
    My conclusion is. I guess. is that using ALL available methods, technology but with no manager referral, stronger referees who do not have personal relationships with the players, a better understanding of the cheating tactics, retrospective changes that managers CAN ask for, and if a player is red carded for a tackle that puts a player out of the game, the perpetrator should serve a ban matching exactly the length of time that injured player is out for. It really is time to act against the cheats because the beautiful game is going down the pan otherwise. Nice article

    • desigunner says:


      It’s a complex situation and I guess only trial and error will take us forward.

      FIFA must prioritize that it wants to end cheating, dirty tackles, etc and then start acting. Even if they get it wrong a couple of times, any initiative taken will eventually help.

  2. Aussie Jack says:

    In my day it didn`t matter if the ref made the odd blunder but in todays football world with stakes so high there is a lot of pressure on officials.
    Myself I think it needs be taken in stages starting with goal line video, the ref. can`t be on the spot everytime it`s physically impossible. On the other hand we must not allow technology to control the game, only assist. I`m for it.

  3. Mack Daniel says:

    A very well thought and well written article.
    My only concern is that (what’s right is right). Since the result has become the most important point in the sport, therefore managers, players, and staff will do anything to get the result in their favour. Consequently the officials have to use the available technology to control and facilitate fairness to the game itself.

    • desigunner says:

      Thanks Mack.

      You’re right about the importance of the result. Win = Good; Loss = Bad or Worse!

      So many managers lose their jobs these days, it’s understandable if some of them try to take advantage of any loopholes in the laws of the game.

      It certainly makes FIFA’s life difficult.

  4. […] original here: Can Technology Really Make The Game Better? « Desi Gunner Tags: all-doubtful, flow, four-hours, hours, kill-the-flow, lasting-three, not-hard, […]

  5. Indian Gooner says:

    Great post Desi!!
    Totally agree with you. Referrals the best suited to a game like football as you’ve mentioned. I think it is time we try it out as all major sports in the world today like tennis, cricket, basketball, etc. have embraced technology and it is working completely fine. But the level of refreeing also has to be increased.

    • desigunner says:

      The level of refereeing certainly has to improve. It’s a shame that even the best refs and their assistants miss a two yard offside.

      If FIFA can’t train a handful of people for this then there is a serious problem that no amount of technology can solve.

  6. Talia says:

    Of course it can. while the present debate is all about goal-line technology the biggest improvement in the game can be made by making the last ten minutes of a match far more of a contest than it currently is.

    Rule 1. Independent timekeepers. Eliminating time-wasting tactics. Literally last-minute substitutions would be pointless. Everyone in the stadium would know exactly how much time is left to the second. “Ferguson time” would be no more.

    Rule 2. A 2 minute “coaching” time-out ten minutes before the end of a match during which final substitutions can be made. (Injury substitutions can be made after that, but proper timekeeping will eliminate iffy tactics.) This would make the last ten minutes flow instead of stutter. The time-out would also enable a short, but highly-profitable increase in advertising revenue for the broadcaster.

    Rule 3. “Chip in ball” technology to eliminate goal-line decisions, which also paves the way for later “chip on jersey” technology to determine offside decisions.

    Rule 4. After the match admission of video evidence to punish wrongdoing. OK, so it’s retrospective, but don’t tell me that a five match ban for simulation wouldn’t have an immediate and lasting effect on the game itself.

    These improvements – certainly points 1 and 3 – would work instantaneously: the information fed to referees, clocks, boards, and screens around the ground. This wouldn’t require time-lag reviews by ‘extra’ officials. There would be no delay. Referees and linesmen could then concentrate on ‘judgement’ calls, fouls, etc. and not stuff that technology can determine better.

    Objection 1. It’s too expensive to cover all matches. Right now it is. So we only get it for the big ones and the premier leagues. Eventually, some of these improvements would cost next-to-nothing. Look at computers … one minute tens of millions, the next … thruppence.

    Objection 2. After-match pub controversies. Really? You don’t think there’ll still be enough to talk about at the end of a game? You actually need erroneous decisions in your life? Really?

    Objection 3. You can’t see how this or that can actually work in practice. Will there be enough 13 amp plugs to go around etc. Sure, someone will have to look at the options and details. But much of this stuff is already there in different sports like hockey, American Football, and basketball. It’s not rocket science, honestly it’s not.

    Objection 4. It would take the romance out of the game. Only if by romance you mean cheating (as in on your girlfriend) or beating her up and saying sorry … yes, it’ll take that kind of ‘romance’ out of the game.

    The thing is imagine what the game is going to look like in 10 or 20 years time … What it’s going to look like after the likes of Sepp Blatter and their legacy of anachronistic conservatism are long gone. It’s inevitable. So why not do it now?

    If, on the other hand, you don’t mind dodgy decisions, corruption, favouritism, unfairness, and incompetence being an integral part of the game then like the reactionary septuagenarians at FIFA etc. keep things as they are. But whatever happens it still won’t be for long.

    • desigunner says:

      Thanks for a thoughtful comment.

      A few months back I did write about using a Hockey style timekeeping system with a large clock that stops/starts every time the ref blows his whistle. That would certainly remove any issues with timekeeping.

      Implementing point 3 would be quite complex for the offside rule.

      I’m all in favour of retrospective punishments as mentioned in the article.

      Time-out’s are a different issue and not related to technology or fairness. I’ll talk about it later.

  7. Abhineet says:

    Goal-line technology while welcome, is not necessary. We need an offside technology. It is as simple as this: If a player from an offside position, scores a goal then the opposite team should be able to challenge that decision. Anyway the flow of the game is broken when the team celebrates the goal. Why not have an offside technology instead? Probably allow 3 challenges per team or something to that effect.

    • desigunner says:

      I think the challenge should allow the opposing coach to question any aspect related to the goal including offside, or an incorrectly awarded free-kick, or a foul in the box, etc.

  8. Samuel says:

    The southern hemisphere Super 14 Rugby tournament uses the technology to see if a try has been scored or not ,it,s simple yet effective and doesn,t break up the game for more than a few seconds at a time,but Sepp Blatter and his bureaucracy at FIFA continue to procrastinate until Germany ,Brazil ,Argentina lose a world cup final due to the unavailability of this technology ,then we,ll finally see action ?

  9. mike in africa says:

    “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.”

    This almost makes sense, and make it sound OK for referee to make a mistake with regard to awarding a goal. however, technology in this case isn’t giving a goal to one team, it simply is making the right call given the situation.

    There could be two situations in one single game where one team gets benefits from mistakes in both instances, ref incorrectly robs goal from team A, while awarding an illegitimate goal to team B.

    The smaller the room for human error, the more likely the fairer the game would become.

    I gotta agree, Super 14 implements this pretty well; if it’s a goal related decision that’s too close to call, review the replay…

    • desigunner says:

      I’m not saying it’s OK for the ref to get it wrong. My point is — why implement technology in such a limited way?

      Exactly as you said – The smaller the room for human error the fairer the game would become.

      If we have only goal line technology, room for human error would still be high. That’s the point.

  10. ujang leite says:

    i’m totally againts the use of technology. it will ruin the passion of football. i think FIFA should put a referee’s assistance behind the goal and i think it’s enough.

  11. […] I’d like to mention that technology can certainly make the game better. I’ve covered that in this article and will not be discussing the issue of technology in this […]

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