Many scenarios suggested for review still come down to matters of opinion
15 March ~ I am not one of those who welcome the decision of the International Board to pave the way for wider use of video assistance. We should think very hard before taking such a drastic step, which threatens to create more problems than it will solve (if it solves any), including prolonging a 90-minute game well beyond its bedtime. I have a strong feeling that the call for greater use of technology is more about football people’s endemic inability to accept unfavourable decisions than anything else.
Before video assistance is introduced, we need a comprehensive analysis of all the matches in a season in some of the major championships to determine just how many crucial errors are made by referees and their assistants. With today’s technology, it should not be difficult. If the number of errors is very low, you have to ask what all the fuss is about. It could be that it is about a false perception of the competence of referees. But since video assistance is on the agenda, we should consider some of the circumstances in which it might be used.
We are told that it will enable the referee to decide whether or not to award a penalty. It is true that he will be able to use it to help him make up his mind, but it will not eliminate controversy. We have all seen games with disputed penalties in which panels of TV pundits have not been able to agree whether the decision was correct even after the minutest slow motion dissection of the incident. Sometimes it is simply a question of whether you think an attacker pushed a defender or the reverse, and that will always be an opinion and at the discretion of the referee.
You could say the same about players diving. Even with TV replays, it is often very difficult to be certain that a player has not been touched before going down. I do not think that video assistance will change that, and even if it does, it might well only be after a lengthy look at the images, which will break up the flow of the game.
And take offsides. Unless I have got it wrong, video assistance will only be available to decide whether a goal is valid if the referee has not already blown his whistle before the ball enters the net. If he has, the ball is dead. Having to depend on the referee’s whistle for a review will surely lead to greater injustices than the ones we see now.
There is also the question of where in the football pyramid video assistance would cease to be available. Wherever that is, it would mean that the game would no longer be able to boast that it is played to the same rules at all levels.
In a short article it is possible to touch on only a few of the reasons why one might be opposed to the widespread use of video assistance. I am sure there are many others. I support goalline technology, and also the use of technology for cases of mistaken identity when yellow or red cards are being handed out, because both cases involve facts and not opinions.
But we must remember that one of the beauties of football is its fluidity. The proposals being mooted risk making it a stop-start game that so far it has just about avoided becoming. Even now, though, games that used to start at 3 o’clock and finish at 4.40 often finish at 4.55. If we let these plans through it could be 5.15. Some of us have trains or buses to catch.
We will never eliminate controversy from football, and nor should we want to. That being the case, it is better to leave things as they are apart from the two situations referred to above. Just accept that without officials there is no game and let them get on with their job. Some of their decisions will always be debatable. Whatever concessions are made now will not be the end. The “reformers" will be back for more, and soon football could be unrecognisable. Richard Mason