THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

23 December 2009 ~ Barely a week passes without some perceived controversy or other causing commentators, pundits, fans and just about everyone else calling for the introduction of video technology. "The technology exists" they cry and "other sports use it, so we must too". Callers to Radio 5 Live 606 seem convinced that the use of technology would rid the game of all refereeing errors, although they are less forthcoming as to precisely how such a system would work.

There are two key problems with applying technology to football. The first is that its proponents almost invariably fail to take into account how technology is used in other sports. For example, a rugby union television match official would have allowed William Gallas's goal against Ireland because he is only empowered to adjudicate on the act of scoring, not on anything that precedes it. A rugby league video ref would have been able to disallow the goal but would not have been able to pass any judgement on the other controversial incident that night, the clash between Shay Given and Nicolas Anelka.

In short, the evidence from other sports is that video technology is excellent for establishing absolute facts but falls down when an element of subjectivity is introduced. If we take cricket as an example: the third umpire works excellently for line decisions, such as run outs, because there is a clearly defined "in" or "out" decision to be made. However, where a level of subjectivity is involved, such as judging a catch behind the wicket, it has proven to be considerably less successful.

This is where the problem for football lies, for the laws of the game are too subjective for video to be used successfully in establishing absolute fact. The Henry handball was comparatively rare in that it was absolutely clear cut and was missed by both the referee and his assistant. The Anelka penalty incident was far more typical of the kind of decision that football referees have to make and, even after seeing the video over and over again, there is still no consensus among pundits, fans and commentators as to whether or not it should have been a penalty. The law relating to the direct free kick includes, in its first paragraph, the words "in a manner considered by the referee to be careless, reckless or using excessive force". These terms are defined later in the laws, but in a way that is still highly interpretive.

An example of this is Jamie Carragher's challenge on Michael Carrick at Anfield earlier this season. Carragher played the ball but was deemed, by some, to have used excessive force (an offence which, incidentally, the laws say should result in a sending off). No matter how many replays are shown, a decision like that remains subjective and, consequently, controversial. Compare this to cricket's LBW law: in order for a batsman to be given out LBW a small number of clearly defined criteria have to be met. If any of them are not then the batsman is given not out. It is a simple law that is now being judged by all of the available technology and yet even then there are still incidents in which a consensus isn't reached.

In spite of the fact that we would all be happier if games were decided solely by the actions of the players and that phone-ins and post-match interviews weren't dominated by talk of referees' decisions rather than the game itself, video technology would, ultimately, simply serve to deflect attention from the referee to the video ref. Certainly, technology such as Hawkeye could be used to determine whether or not the ball had crossed the line, but it is highly debatable whether the level of investment required could be justified in order to clear up a handful of decisions a season. For the time being we are better off without the video and, perhaps, would be better advised to get off the referees' backs instead. The alternative, of course, is just to stick Alan Green in front of a monitor and ask him to referee the game. He knows best, after all. James Thomson

Comments (16)
Comment by Zomeorondervan 2009-12-23 10:53:33

A very clear and sensible article. Dealing with the reality rather than the rhetoric.

The other issue with football is of course the re-start.

Let's take an incident like Geoff Hurst's 'goal' in 1966 as an example. If we were able to refer that decision to a video referee when exactly would it have been done?

If you refer it instantly (i.e. the moment the ball hits the line) and a goal is awarded then it's easy enough - everything after the ball hitting the line is nullified and you re-start as normal.

But if it is deemed NOT to be a goal, how do you restart the game - a drop-ball on the goal-line? That would be crazy - but anything else would be unfair on the attacking side.

Or if the point of referral is when the ball next goes out of play - what happens if the opposition break and score at the other end before the referral, or there is a bad tackle or injury?

As James mentions, there are very few 'line' decisions in football. It's all about opinion and interpretation.

Therefore the only realistic, long-term solution is for one of the officials to have an ear-piece that sounds a short beep when the ball wholly crosses a touchline, goalline etc. And the Gallas goal should not be used as evidence for video-technology - just officials with eyes.

Comment by isi_777 2009-12-23 12:32:17

brilliant article. for what it's worth, i totally agree with everything you say, especially the final bit about getting off referees' backs.

the amount of ridiculous and unconsidered proposals that are given airtime in the media is staggering. i recently read a terrible article that suggested that "anyone found guilty to have dived should be instantly banned for 5 games". incredibly, many people agreed. obviously i do not need to explain to you how absurd this is and the many faults to such a proposal.

i would also like to suggest that there are also sociological reasons why the introduction of video technology is a risk, notably relating to the idea that sportsmanship and respect to referees needs to be improved first - as a matter of priority, in my opinion - especially in terms of promoting a better culture that can be filtered down to lower leagues, sunday leagues etc.

as you say, the introduction of video technology will just deflect abuse/anger towards governing bodies and the system etc. and will not 'cure' the wider issue of people (supporters, managers, players) acting like animals.

great article.

Comment by RayDeChaussee 2009-12-23 15:18:57

You forget to mention tennis, James, the one sport where video technology really has worked. Apply the same challenge system in football, and give captains two or three challenges a game for any kind of incident, and it would clear up a lot of problems. Sure, some incidents are difficult to judge, even when replayed several times on video, but something like the Henry handball, the Crystal Palace phantom goal at the start of the season or the N'Gog dive against Birmingham could have been cleared up in seconds, sparing us all a lot of tedious debate. Still, football thrives on debate and controversy and I'm not sure the powers that be would be overly keen on that element going out of the game.

One problem with video technology that you don't touch on is teams receiving a surreptitious message from the bench or dressing room, prompting a challenge. We saw an instance of that with Stuart Broad's first-innings dismissal in the recent test against South Africa. Obviously, captains should have only a five or ten-second period in which to appeal, before the replays come on.

Still a it's good, well-argued piece, though I think there definitely is a place for video technology in football. Henry probably now wishes there had been a fifth ref reviewing his sleight of hand that night in Paris.

Comment by jamesthomson 2009-12-23 17:07:25

Thanks for the positive feedback. The inteesting point about tennis is that it rather supports the assertion that technology only works where it is dealing with fact, in this case Hawkeye's ball path, and where there are clearly defined criteria for making the decision, in this case what constitutes 'in' or 'out'. The examples that RayDeCahussee cites from football are all good ones, but they are also highly unusual: if we take Eduardo's dive as an example, there was still no clear decision as to whether or not he dived several weeks later. One thing that certainly cannot be determined by technology is intent and, unfortunately, the laws of football are full of it.

Good point about Stuart Broad and Graeme Smith, but it also raises an interesting question: if football did go down the referral route (and, obviously, I hope that it doesn't) then who would be responsible for making the referral? The captain? The bench, who may have seen a replay? The logistics are too horrible to contemplate before we even start on Zomeorondervan and isi777's good points above. Still, it's not something that is going to go away in a hurry and I hope that my small contribution is at least thought provoking.

Comment by stuart77 2009-12-23 19:06:23

Technology will let Sky have even more reason to blather on about nothing and fuel this tedious debate. The last thing I want to see is more droning on.

Also, football isn't like Tennis in so many ways. It is not a start stop, have a nice glass of pop game. At its best it is a non stop, end to end rally, with atmosphere and tribes of thousands singing their team to victory.

Anyone who lays into referees should be prepared to get his whistle out and try it. They get it right so often but are rarely praised. The ref that gave Rooney a yellow card for diving against Villa at Old Trafford was spot on. He did the game a service. Showing kids at home that even if you are Wayne Rooney at Old Trafford, you can't cheat and get away with it.

Comment by stuart77 2009-12-23 19:16:35

And another thing. When your team scores and you jump up and down and dance about with you friends - that is part of the experience of being at a game - its is a rush and a buzz that is like nothing else.

Waiting around for some bloke watching a video replay will kill it. You cheer the moment, together and that makes it special. This irreplaceable moment, is more important than the results of a few of matches.

Comment by isi_777 2009-12-23 19:31:44

sorry to hog this but i just wanna make one more point in relation to my previous one, if that's ok...

although it is interesting to look towards other sports as a reference to see how they have succeeded and/or failed in embracing video technology, i think it important to remember that sports like tennis, cricket and rugby simply do not suffer from the same cultural problems that football does.

all of the aforementioned sports do not have a history of respect problems when it comes to authority in the form of referees. in football there exists a culture built on hatred and resentment towards officials which, sadly, is indulged by all 'members' of the football spectrum... players, managers, supporters, pundits and, not least, 24hr news shows such as sky sports.

herein, there exists a horrible vicious cycle in that broadcasters indulge controversy as it is in their interest to have something to talk about, create drama around their show and also as they want to appear on the side of their audience.

in this respect, it is no wonder that channels like sky sports would lobby in favour of video technology being used because that would add value and perceived importance to their programming.

Comment by kbmac 2009-12-23 23:00:39

You don't have to watch "Match of the Day" very often to realise that two people who know the game well can have really different opinions about the same event. Let's hope it never comes in. Having said that,when the FIFA Officials decided on the spot that something all the match officials had missed was likely to be too controversial not to intervene on, as happened with Zidane's sending off in the World Cup Final, it was fairly obvious that video replay had been used but ultimately difficult to argue that the correct decision was not reached. Perhaps an interesting sport to look at would be Ice Hockey where in the NHL many decisions are actually referred to Hockey Central in Toronto where a team of top officials will bring an instant ruling on particular incidents - usually about crossing the line but also about timings which are considered critical. Like a video ref but with far greater authority and, crucially, far more likely to be consistent. Their view is that the correct decision must be reached regardless of the delays this may cause. One difference with football is the lack of respect for referees in general as pointed out in an earlier post. I knew an amateur ref who turned up at work with his car all smashed down one side after a particularly nasty match. If the decision lies with the video ref it will simply be he who is criticised and berated rather than the guy in the middle.

Comment by billhaven 2009-12-25 02:44:22

Obviously most decisions aren't clear cut but that's not a convincing argument against the use of video technology.

Simply, if the TV official is in any doubt having reviewed the incident within a specified time frame (ideally 1 minute max) then the original decision stands.

We'd still have our beloved controversy but the farcial miscarriages of justice we see from time to time could be avoided.

Comment by Broon 2009-12-25 18:11:53

no no no. Sorry, but I have to disagree. This article reads like a record review that's so determined to be different that it overlooks abundant qualities in favour of nit-picking at the fringes.

The author is right to say that there are more decisions in football that rely on judgement than in other sports where black-and-white decisions can be made. But that doesn't mean football should shrink away from technology which can help referees make MORE decisions which are BETTER than they are currently able to. The perfect is not the enemy of the good. We don't exclude all forensic evidence from court because it's sometimes inconclusive (even contradictory). Video evidence also makes it much harder for players, teams or officials to cheat, so it works as an anti-corruption device too. And let's not minimise how important these decisions are now, for better or worse (OK, for worse). I don't think I'm exaggerating to say that if an incident like the Henry handball had occurred in the Egypt-Algeria play-off, those two countries would be on the brink of war.

There's plenty of ways its effect on the game can be regulated, i.e. two appeals per team per game, made by the team captain (which would introduce a fascinating new side to the relatively marginal current role of captaincy in football), have to be invoked "within reasonable time" (roughly 10 seconds?) to the referee, with no bench help. As Rugby has shown, it makes for MORE moments of excitement for the crowd, more drama.

I also think it would have a big deterrent effect on diving and the harrassment of referees, not because the potential offender would fear being embarrassed by the video appeal (they clearly don't care about embarassment). If the ref gives the penalty, the defender can appeal and have a good chance of winning the appeal. If the ref doesn't give the penalty, would the diver really lie to his captain to tell him to use up one of the team's appeals, fully aware that it will be wasted, and therefore piss off the rest of his teammates? Or would he dust himself down and get on with the game? Or, would he perhaps try to stay on his feet, take a shot in the first place instead of going over?

Video evidence has the potential to help referees get more major decisions right, curb diving, and reduce ref harrassment. You need far more robust arguments than the ones presented in the article above to rebut a technology with such game-changing potential.

PS. Happy Christmas and all that.

Comment by Dalef65 2009-12-26 05:36:16

Anything to do with referalls and appeals would be a total farce,it would create more arguments than we have now,whilst not solving anything.

Comment by SaffaBhoy 2009-12-27 10:49:05

But the trouble is the vast majority of refs Aren't up to it.
And yes, have tried it on numerous occasions.....VT the sooner the better.

Comment by Cordwainer 2009-12-29 15:35:45

I agree that a lot of decisions are not straightforward yes or no. Take hand ball, when a ball is driven against a player's hand from about 2 yards, everyone appeals. Sometimes it is even given by the ref! But is it deliberate? Many players have also become skilled at running across a defender's body thus getting a foul. Most fans ( and pundits) seem to think that the ball is over the line if some of it or even most of it is over but that is not the law. I am not sure how technology can deal with a large object such as a football (rather than tennis or cricket balls) being wholly over the line particularly if in mid air.

Comment by hi there 2010-04-01 18:20:28

Wow, what a load of bs about nothing. Just because video technology isn't "as successful" on subjective areas of the game doesn't mean it can't help refs make more assured decisions.

Refs should be given the option of whether they want to use video technology to review close calls or not. If even the best players in the world can make ridiculous blunders, how can we expect refs to make the correct decision everytime on impulse, at the drop of a hat?

I'm sure every single one of them has made decisions that they've regretted later, video technology can help change that, as well as help (though not entirely) avoid ridiculous mistakes like the Henry handball. It really is quite idiotic when you think about it, a handball that everyone in the world but the ref, the one person who NEEDS to see what happened, could clearly see, destroys the hopes of an entire nation. Why? Because Blatter said no technology.

Refs should be spared having to take on unnecessary burdens like that, as well as having to take abuse from fans, players, managers and the media without knowing whether they were right until they get home and switch on the telly.

Yes it won't be 100%, because nothing is. A helmet won't guarantee you won't crack your head open on your bike, seatbelts won't guarantee that you'll keep your life, but they do HELP.

To the people parroting on about the "flow" of the game, and how it might ruin the "buzz", I have nothing to say other than would you prefer to have a few more cheap cheers on the back of a blatantly incorrect decision, or wait for the correct decision and cheer on something your team won fair and square? Some of the other arguments... just wow.

I agree with a lot of the points that "Broon" made.

Comment by Miro 2010-04-14 08:24:17

Apologies for late posting!

Really good article and I agree with every word. IMO those who support VT invariably fail to think through the consequences of their "obvious" improvements.

For example, Hi there argues that "Refs should be given the option of whether they want to use video technology to review close calls or not." So lets think what might happen here the first time that a ref chooses NOT to use this option and SKY subsequently demonstrate that he has missed an offence. What will we see on the back pages? Maybe someting like "..this tard of a ref had the option to call for a review and didn't even use it.." i.e. he would get a far bigger roasting than he would in the current climate. What will that ref do next time that there's any hint of physical contact in the box or the ball passes within 3 feet of a defender's arm - he'll call for a review - I certainly would. Maybe we'll end up with a rule/definition of a "close call" and then we can shift the controversy to whether an incident was a close call or not!

Why would the ref have taken the option to call for a review of the Henry incident? He didn't see it - nor did his officials - maybe he would just have relied on player appeals or maybe appeals from the crowd.

Almost every "obvious" suggestion that I've come across can quickly be analysed into a potential shambles that would simply shift the problem.

You just can't compare the use of VT in stop/start games with football. You just can't ..so please stop doing it! I must admit I can't see any logical argument against the use of goalline technology IF it could be proved infallible - maybe the powers that be just think it would be the thin end of the wedge. There is a strong arguement to say that it should be all or nothing and for me nothing wins hands down!

Football has been a great game for over 100 hundred years and will continue to be so for the next hundred. Let's not spoil it now - just accept that in football it's not what actually happens it's what the officials on the pitch deem to have happened and move on!

I'm glads that we won a world cup - even on the back of a dodgy goal - we probably would have won it anyway. I'm sad that we got knocked out of one on the back of a hand from the heavens - but we probably would have got knocked out anyway - they were better than us!

Comment by Frankly 2010-06-25 20:57:23

The idea of television replays in cricket was resisted for a long time, eventually it has become possible for the captain to have a limited number of referals per match.
This should certainly be done in football as well, since unfair refereeing spoils the game for everyone
weve got the technology, why not use it to make the game fair and fraud free?
even if only 3 referals per side is allowed iyt will make a huge difference! So much money is involved plus the future of individual players who are unfairly red carded etc
lets get more integrity back into the game!

Related articles

More in hope than expectation
New Year 2010 ~ In the current issue, WSC 275 (January 2010), we indulged in some wishful thinking for football in the year aheadOur list of hopes...
Rematch of the day
The demands for video replays to help referees grow ever more hysterical (especially when Blackburn or Bolton play). But Barney Ronay has seen more...
Technological breakthrough
Fewer mistakes or free-flowing football? Choosing the lesser of two evils is the problemIn the days when there were only three UK television channels...