16 June ~ "Thank you Sepp Blatter," said Mark Lawrenson moments after Frank Lampard's shot crossed the line without a goal being given at last summer's World Cup. "I hope he's here and squirming in his seat." As the head of an organisation that plumbed new depths of farce during its presidential election two weeks ago, there are many reasons why Blatter should be squirming. His caution regarding the adoption of goal-line technology, however, is not one of them. Yet Blatter is not completely alone.
It slipped under the football news radar, but earlier this month Roy Hodgson revealed in an interview that he thought goal-line technology would "sanitise" football. "Albeit that we are looking for perfection," he said, "we must remember that football is not a science, it is a game." But his voice of caution is very much the exception rather than the rule in English football.
The implementation of goal-line technology is presented by the majority of the British media as some kind of cure-all for the game's ills, an opinion Richard Scudamore appears to share. The Premier League's chief executive wants some form of goal-line decision making in place by the 2012-13 season and recently described its absence as an "embarrassment to us as football administrators". To the most powerful man in English football, the game's biggest problem is not managers who cannot behave with dignity when they lose, career-threatening tackles or unaffordable tickets. No, the scourge of football is that tiny, almost insignificant number of occasions when the officials can't be sure if the whole of the ball has crossed the line.
It's actually to football's credit that it has remained almost untouched by technology. Take the example of cricket, which has been fundamentally changed since the Umpire Decision Review System (DRS) was introduced in 2009. Yes, it's improved the percentage of correct decisions made, but what's been lost is that realisation that, when a batsman thick-edges it into his pad and is still given out LBW, success in sport – no matter how hard you practise – can sometimes boil down to luck. Football maintains an essential purity that is important given how much has changed off the field since 1992. Those changes are often brought out by the pro-technology lobby, who say that incorrect decisions are more intolerable than ever given the money that now swirls around the game.
But just whose money is on the line here? It's certainly not the fans'. In fact, a relegation decided on a dodgy decision would actually save supporters money in the form of less expensive ticket prices in a lower division. Sky's investment is also unaffected and technology controversies actually play straight in to the broadcaster's hands. That leaves players and owners as the only people who could be affected monetarily – the only really meaningful way, given that football is just a game – by an incorrect goal-line decision. But Premier League players are almost all enormously wealthy, regardless of results, and any sensible owner should be well aware of the financial risks in football and plan accordingly for sport's unique characteristics.
More important, however, is the way the lack of goal-line technology seems to legitimise players' and managers' behaviour. Proponents of technology often claim that its absence undermines the FA's Respect campaign, essentially arguing that it's okay to abuse referees and question their integrity because correct decisions cannot always be reached. How can managers possibly accept referees' decisions like adults when technology is not used? Well, there is actually one Premier League manager who takes good and bad decisions on the chin and conducts himself with a little dignity. His name is Roy Hodgson. James de Mellow