It’s a Wednesday night – the living room is dark, lit only by the glare of the television screen. Empty beer cans litter the floor, several half eaten bags of chips lie on the table. Five loud, shouting men, grasping their beer cans tightly, are enveloped in a Champions League match. Suddenly, one of their players takes a shot on goal which strikes downward from the crossbar, landing over the goal-line. The players think they’ve scored. The guys in the living room know they’ve scored. Sadly, the referee and linesman missed it, making sure they haven’t scored. The rugby fan and the tennis fan in the corner of the room are laughing while the football fans unleash their fury in a cascade of swearing, screaming and arguing.
That’s modern football – wealthy, powerful, influential and entertaining. Until somebody makes a wrong decision; then it becomes plain to all that this sport remains in the Stone Age, left behind by cricket, tennis, rugby and others. Disputed line calls have all but disappeared in tennis due to the introduction of Hawkeye technology. A disputed try in rugby can be verified in a matter of seconds through the television match official. And the radio conversation between the officials can be heard clearly on the television. It seems fair and transparent.
Contrast that with FIFA’s incomprehensible opposition to the introduction of technology. Football fans have been talking about goal-line systems for years and the chorus has gotten louder with the European Championships just around the corner. English fans in particular remember Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal against Germany in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Germany went on to win the game comfortably, but the result might have been different if technology helped make the correct decision. Irish football fans were deprived of their place at the same World Cup when Thierry Henry infamously handled the ball right before the French scored. Everybody saw that blatant act of cheating on television but the referee did nothing. FIFA and UEFA didn’t want to hear calls for a replay from the Irish and the English in these cases.
In the wake of several terrible decisions and countless FIFA corruption scandals, things finally started to change and goal-line technology was considered for testing. Two systems, Hawkeye and GoalRef have been developed and Hawkeye was tested at the Hampshire Senior Cup Final on 16 May 2012 in Southampton. It was again tested on June 2 at England’s international friendly game against Belgium at Wembley in London. It is hoped that some form of agreement will take place at the beginning of July, directly after the European Championships.
How does this technology work? Hawkeye in football would function in a similar manner to its counterpart on the tennis court. Six cameras are installed in each goal and they use ‘triangulation’ to track the position of the ball. Once the ball crosses the line, an encrypted radio signal is sent to the referee’s watch, informing him that a goal has been scored. GoalRef is a little bit different. A microchip is implanted within the ball and low magnetic waves are used around the goal. Any change in the magnetic field behind the goal-line informs the referee that a goal has been scored. Both of these technologies process the information in under one second, in line with FIFA requirements.
So, after countless decades filled with terrible decisions and frustration, technology is on the way to football. The English, German and Swiss leagues are hoping to adopt one of the systems this year or next year. There is an air of confidence that a goal-line system will be in place for the World Cup in Brazil in 2014. The fans should indeed be hopeful…FIFA has inexorably delayed the process but finally seem to be caving under the weight of common sense. If there are more controversial decisions at the European Championships, surely it will just add fuel to the fire of the fans’ arguments. Maybe, just maybe, football fans will be able to relax alongside tennis and rugby fans, confident in the fact that technology will eliminate all those frustrating errors from their sport.
imagenote: Daniel Lobo/wikimedia/cc