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Originally posted January 17 2005 at 12:01 under Football. 0 Comments. Trackbacks Disabled.

Technology in Football

Frustrated and worried

With a number of recent incidents in the premier league there are once again calls for the use of technology to decide on contentious decisions in games. This posts describes the reasons I believe that this should not be.

Let me begin this exposition by stating the obvious: Football is a simple game, and is at is best when this is most obvious. Over complicating the game risks spoiling it, or at the least causing more confusion than necessary (the controversy over the revised off-side rule—something itself supposedly fixable with the do all balm of technology—is a case in point). Football is so simple in fact that it can be played anywhere from the lowest park to the grandest stadium and, give or take the talent of the players and the ability of the officials, the game will be played the same. The players will on occasion cheat (that is blunt but still to a greater or lesser extent true). The officials (referee, linesmen—or assistant referees if you insist) will make mistakes. It will even itself out and it will be the same for all players, no matter which park they’re in. One of the milder suggestions for technology in the game is the introduction of radio tracking of the ball, to determine when it has crossed the goal line for instance. This would actually probably work, given that it doesn’t particularly suffer from most of the problems outlined below (assuming it’s decision really is instant). However, it still breaks the fundamental simplicity of the game and provides a foothold for the introduction of further “innovation” with potentially far worse consequences (one can already hear the cries of “we’ve seen how well technology works with the chip in the ball”, as if all technology were the same).

Even if one accepts the idea that where millions (billions?) of pounds are potentially at stake, then – well – the stakes are higher one runs into problems. The oft used arguments include “the cameras are there, let’s use them”, and “they do it in other sports”. Both true, but the point of football is it’s flow. In sports like rugby and cricket where an adjudication is requested from some fourth, fifth, umpteenth official with a TV monitor the game has reached a natural break—it would have stopped anyway (as an aside anyone who claims that we can instantly get a decision should observe just how long it takes for the verdict to come down in these cases). In football a contentious offside decision (for instance) is not necessarily a natural break. If it is offside then there is a free kick and break, yes, but if not then play continues as normal (the ball may be lost, an offence—perhaps worthy of a sending off—committed a goal scored by either team). Presumably one must wait for a natural break before examining the evidence for a decision that could well have occurred minutes before (or one has someone second guessing every referee decision and hence severely undermining his authority). And thus the flow is broken. Yes, we can probably track every player on the pitch in real time, given enough effort, but to what accuracy and to what purpose (I recall the “virtual replay” introduced a few years ago—and now mysteriously vanished—which recreated a position in a virtual world to examine offside, whether the ball crossed the line et al., all ignoring the stated accuracy of ball and player position was only about a foot). Having determined where everyone is using the dozens of cameras covering each top game we’re still left with the problem in the third round of the FA Cup where the big team travels to the minnows with their shed as a stand. Hardly the same is it.

Football is simple. It should remain that way for the sake of the game, so that school ground arguments don’t degenerate into trying to convince teacher to check the CCTV camera to decide on a goal, so that the game played on a Sunday afternoon is the same as those played (ever so rarely it seems) at 3pm on a Saturday. Yes, mistakes will be made, but again, that is part of the game. And it is a game we love.

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This Crazy Fool

Dr Ian Scott
Croydon (and Gateshead), United Kingdom
Bullding Services Engineer (EngDesign), PhD in Physics (University of York), football fanatic (Newcastle United), open source enthusiast (mainly Mozilla)

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