Why FIFA Refuses to Sanction Goal-Line Technology [Updated Again]

soccer

Technology is everywhere in soccer. From hi-tech fabrics, divot-defying cleats, and dynamic new ball technology, sports firms such as Adidas and Nike are constantly pushing the boundaries for new and innovative products. And the matches you see on TV are the best yet, with FIFA, who owns the television rights, sticking cameras everywhere they can possibly stick them so that TV spectators can enjoy the hits--and misses--from every conceivable angle.

There is, however, one blind spot. And perhaps it is where the game needs it most: on the goal line. And on Sunday morning, at approximately 10.38 EST [Ed: And at least once in every U.S. match], we had glaring proof that FIFA needs to move with the times and start using technology as a fifth pair of eyes. On Saturday the footballing body's secretary general, Jerome Valcke, stated that the next World Cup might well have an extra pair of assistant referees, one behind each goal, "to have more eyes helping [the referee] to make decisions."

The decision to disallow Frank Lampard's goal may or may not have been disastrous for England (let's face it, they haven't exactly been excelling at the beautiful game in South Africa), but the U.S. had their third goal ruled out in their match against Slovenia. So why is FIFA being such a bunch of Luddites on the situation?

Update: Following the linesman's error in last night's Argentina-Mexico match, when Carlos Tevez's blatantly offside goal was given, the replay of the incident on the big screens in the stadium fueled, says ESPN soccernet, arguments on the pitch. FIFA has now decided to suspend the replays, so that the players don't get into any more argy-bargy, saying that replaying the incident was "a clear mistake." A spokesman for South Africa's organizing committee said. "In retrospect, maybe it shouldn't have been shown. It was shown, and unfortunately there is nothing we can do about that."

[Ed: Yes there is.]

FIFA: rewriting history, one cock-up at a time.

Other games, such as tennis, cricket and snooker, all use Hawk-Eye technology. It consists of a minimum of four high-speed video cameras dotted around the sports arena and, based on the principles of triangulation, calculates the 3-D position of the ball in each frame of the camera. It is not without its critics, who claim that the systems's statistical margin of error is too small. Hawk-Eye has been proposed for use in Football, but as yet, FIFA seems unwilling to take the idea up.

Another idea is Cairos goal-line technology, a hook up between Adidas and tech firm Cairos. It consists of bathing the front and back of the goal area in magnetic radiation. When the ball, which has a sensor built into it, crosses the line, a watch on the referee's wrist indicates whether it's a goal or not. You can see a simple explanation of it here.

FIFA's train of thought is that the rules of football should be the same everywhere it is played, from the different leagues in each country, to pub teams having a Sunday morning kickabout. But spectators of matches worldwide get the benefit of replays and virtual goal line technology. And, according to sports journalist James Mason, FIFA's reasoning is pointless. "Anyone who plays football on a Saturday or Sunday on Hackney Marshes, well, we don't have a linesman--and sometimes we don't even have a referee. So it is different. At the higher levels, there is so much money involved now the technology should be introduced."

Back in March of this year, the football world waited to find out just what FIFA's stance on using technology at the forthcoming World Cup. This was part of their statement. "No matter which technology is applied, at the end of the day a decision will have to be taken by a human being. This being the case, why remove the responsibility from the referee to give it to someone else? It is often the case that, even after a slow-motion replay, ten different experts will have ten different opinions on what the decision should have been."

That doesn't even address the issue. FIFA also pontificated on improving the quality of refereeing and mused about just how technology might change the game. "IF the IFAB (International Football Association Board) had approved goal-line technology, what would prevent the approval of technology for other aspects of the game? Every decision in every area of the pitch would soon be questioned." Clearly they're scared of Japan being the first nation to field a 23-robot squad for the 2030 World Cup (to be held on the moon).

The referee must make the decision on what they see or don't see at the time--but, judging by the Uruguayan linesman's reaction when he saw the replay yesterday--it's possible that they may be petitioning FIFA for a change sooner rather than later. Given that dodgy decisions from match officials have led to death threats against some referees, which led to the early retirement of Anders Frisk after a Champions League match, and a Facebook campaign against Tom Henning Ovrebo four years later, it may be a welcome move.

Unsurprisingly, FIFA is keeping very quiet on the matter. They do have a point that having to stop the match while officials pore over a video screen will slow the game down to a point where both players and spectators may lose out. However, when all the fuss over the 2010 World Cup has died down--the disallowed goals, the goals that stood when they shouldn't have, the play-acting of the sportsmen--if you want to go back to the 2006 tournament, the three yellow cards--when it's all quiet again, FIFA should start an investigation into using technology. And next time, draw a different conclusion.

Update 2: Sepp Blatter has gone on to apologize to both England and Mexico (although he didn't have the Jabulanis to do it in person) and has said that FIFA will look into the technology issue again next month. "It is obvious that after the experiences so far at this World Cup, it would be a nonsense not to open the file on goal-line technology," he said. "I apologized to England and Mexico. The English said thank you and accepted that you can win some and you lose some, and the Mexicans bowed their head and accepted it."

The FIFA president also said that the organization would be launching a new drive to improve refereeing standards. "We will come out with a new model in November on how to improve high-level referees. We will start with a new concept of how to improve match control. I cannot disclose more of what we are doing but something has to be changed."

Sepp Blatter, handy on his feet in a crisis, not so good at other times.

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17 Comments

  • Mdubya

    One important point: FIFA don't regulate the laws of the game. IFAB do. Half of IFAB is populated by the UK nations. Blatter can not dictate technology be used if IFAB say no, neither can he refuse it if IFAB say it is to be implemented. Blatter will have influence politically, obviously, but there's no point in blaming him for technology that, at its last trial, failed to produce reliable results.

  • 1nine

    I'm with Alan Hawley on this. The use of technology will take away the opportunity that these types of situations offer us to live up to the values we supposedly believe and adhere to. Germany had the opportunity (after the half time break) to simply let England score to correct the wrong done. Their choice to do otherwise shows us the distance between any claim to truth and fairness and their passion for victory. Technology would simply take away the opportunity to choose altogether. This is not limited to sport. Rather, it extends to most (if not all) aspects of life. Make no mistake, technology gives and takes. And like many other things, we may not fully appreciate or realize what has been taken until it is too late. Ellul IJES!

  • Shelby Lynn

    Adding technology to the game couldn't make it any more stop-start than it already is. It takes a minimum of 1 minute for any kind of set piece to take place and they could easily have an official that looks only at replays during the pauses in the game when players are rolling around on the ground pretending to be injured. Also as a side note, where are the apologies to the U.S. team? Everyone deserves an apology except America? @ John I believe you'll find that England has ALSO lost and they were still complaining about the gross football injustice they suffered as well.

  • Jim Casey

    There should be automated proof of goals scored or not scored, and the technology exists and is easily available to any league that wants to pay for it. Also, every call that results in a penalty kick, since those essentially award the team a goal, should be automatically reviewed by an official with access to tv replays.

  • Reverend Ike

    FIFA.com match report: "Lampard's shot from the edge of the box struck the underside of the crossbar and bounced down, with the referee ruling the ball had not crossed the goalline." - as if it was millimetres close instead of a blatant goal. The Premiership, World Cup, and other top competitions are a joke - huge money involved, yet a skeleton officiating crew. Mistakes related to goals, offsides, bookings, tackles, and dives in almost every game. The ratio of officials to players is the poorest among all major sports. They should have goalline technology AND a goal judge at each end, AND an additional linesman on each touchline for major league games and regional (Euros) and international competitions. And stop the nonsense about how the game would be too stop-start if they introduced technology - it can't be much worse than it is now with time-wasting on every goal kick, throw-in and free-kick, and fake injuries every 5 minutes. Time to get out of the 19th century and into the 21st ...

  • john

    "[Ed: And at least once in every U.S. match]"
    The biggest problem is that americans can't accept that they lost. This is one of the last sports that is all human. Everyone makes mistakes, players and referees alike. Just because they make mistakes doesn't meen we should replace them. Next thing you know people are going to suggest that we get rid of Lines-men and just have a camera in above the field and mic in the ref's ear. The same people that yell and cry about the ref's calls are prolly the same type of people that complain about the way the ball "handles" every year.

  • Jack

    Correction*

    98% of Americans did not care the US team lost, do not kid yourself. That was just an example of how badly screw ups alter games when they shouldn't. There is no excuse for not fixing "*bleep* ups". Refs are there to manage the game, not change it by blowing calls. Adding instant reply actually helps the refs by aiding them in otherwise career ruining calls. Fifa is just being naive by using the moronic excuse that Ref's F'n up is part of the game.

  • Paul Celan

    It's why nobody will ever take Soccer seriously. It''s not a fair game due to bad officiating. Simple as that. Great idea, just not mature enough as a modern world sport. Let's get with the 21st century folks, and actually use technology to ensure fairness. England would have won that game (the goal was an equalizer) and we all know that.

  • zorbee

    we have Infa red sensors installed in our garage that can tell when a person walks in and it turns on the lights, or stops the garage door from closing as a safety precaution.

    why cant FIFA have one of these installed to tell when a ball goes in? Aside from the cameras, I think it would help too.

  • rainydayinterns

    Apologies are useless if things don't change. Must we wait for luddites to die before progress can be made?

  • jamesfox

    The solution is simple. Allow each team three video replays per game. Like a time out. To question a call, the coach simply requests video, knowing that there are limits. no need for magnetic sensors and all that. just TV.

    The Lampard goal not being counted is insane. FIFA should have made the score 2 : 2 at the half.
    And that type of thing is exactly why Americans hate FIFA. How can the whole world watch a goal that equalizes a critical game, and it is not allowed? Because.....no one knows why.....

    Think about England going into the half being told by the official: "even if you score, it doesn't count!". that ruins morale.

  • Tyler Gray

    There's something to be said for not calling in a replay for EVERY call. The human element is what makes sport dramatic, even when it comes to refereeing. But on vital calls upon which a goal depends, there should be some tech, some replay. Here's a fresh story about how to make this happen: http://www.fastcompany.com/166...

  • Alan Hawley

    Imagine the outpouring of goodwill that the goalkeeper for Germany would have generated by placing the ball inside the goal where he saw it bounce. Yes, it would probably have been counted as an own goal. However, he would have been celebrated for his sportmanship for a lifetime around the world.

    Sure, some of you will make the case that you must win at all costs, but he missed the opportunity to forever imprint brand-Germany as one of honesty & integrity on the world stage. Surely, that would have the been a prize of even greater value than the World Cup.

    Instead it was opportunity lost - just another con artist who sold his soul for short-term gain. In my opinion, Germany would still have won the game considering the way they were taking advantage of England's mistakes.

    And we're left talking about technology instead of branding, integrity & a glorious moment in sports history.

  • George Bush

    Except that the ball bounced out so quickly, the keeper didn't get much of a chance to see it. And as it bounced right back out, the keeper could have easily believed that it never went in. That it just went off the bar and bounced down/out.

    Don't blame him. He didn't have replay at the time, either.

    Now, the Argentinian player, on the other hand... He HAD to know he was offsides. He had just run by all of Mexico's defenders!

  • Tyler Gray

    This is an awesome idea. Maybe a bit of, as we say here, Monday morning quarterbacking. But I agree that a move like that would have engendered international support. And, you know, in no sport but soccer would such a display of sportsmanship even be considered. Missed opportunity. Great comment.

  • Mike Kim

    Disagree that only in soccer would a show of sportsmanship be considered... Look at Golf - there have been players who have taken themselves out of contention on calls that NO ONE else had seen.

    Soccer players, in my opinion, are more like con artists, taking dives when no foul has been committed, or as was the case in one of the matches, falling into the ground wailing about a face injury when a replay clearly showed that he was hit nowhere near his face...

  • Sheena Medina

    The whole thing sounds very dodgy, especially with the FIFA deciding to suspend the replays. There are also conspiracy theories about the NBA being somehow "rigged" by referees and franchise owners. Makes me wonder..