Monday, March 08, 2010

It’s not as if FIFA need anyone to help them look foolish, but Liam Ridgewell, David James and the officials at the Portsmouth-Birmingham match gave them a helping hand at the weekend. Just minutes after the FIFA-backed International Football Association Board announced that new technology would not be brought in to help officials, Ridgewell knocked the ball over the goal-line, but it was disallowed for none of the officials having noticed.

I’ve never been that keen on the notion of bringing in replays or Hawkeye-style goal-line technology. This is partly because I don’t want the game to be slowed down: sports like tennis and rugby can accommodate that sort of thing in their usual pace, but any stoppage in football is an inconvenience, hence the concept of stoppage time. However, I also like the idea that football is played under the same conditions, at whatever level, wherever you are in the world. As the profile of the sport canters away to levels of insane hype, it’s something to hold onto that the European Cup final is a match just like Harrogate Town vs Stalybridge in the Conference North – strip away the context and they are the same thing underneath.

I always think this is a slight flaw in the use of Hawkeye in tennis. It’s a great system and hasn’t adversely affected matches where it’s used – the pauses where players wait for the decision have simply replaced those longueurs caused when players fruitlessly harangued the umpire. However, it’s so technology-intensive that it’s only in place on the show courts at the major tournaments, which effectively means your chance of getting laser-accurate calls depends on how popular you are. Everyone on the outside courts just has to take their chances, so even within the same tournament you’ve got matches happening under different conditions. As if former champions didn’t already have enough cause to be bitter about playing their first-round match on no.2 court. If you had it in football, what level would you install it to? Would you make clubs remove it if they got relegated, or would they be free to use it if they could afford it?

On the other hand, the fitness of top-level footballers has risen so much that maybe we have to acknowledge that the game is different at the highest level. Maybe it’s unreasonable to expect officials to be able to keep up like they used to, and it’s inevitable that they’ll make more mistakes when the game moves faster – unless the officials are backed up by technology. Futhermore, it seems unfair on the officials of televised games to allow their mistakes to be exposed with the benefit of the TV replay: it just puts them under more pressure.

Most of all, though, the introduction of technology would hopefully mean less post-match whingeing about refereeing decisions, and it would definitely mean the end of interminable discussion over whether technology should be introduced. When I think of that, suddenly it seems like a superb idea.

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