Goal line technology - a game changer for better or worse?
Chelsea's 'phantom goal' has got punters talking about video replays – but will it ever happen?
GOAL-LINE technology is back in the headlines after Chelsea's "phantom" strike helped dump Tottenham out of the FA Cup yesterday. Video replays show that Juan Mata's 49th-minute goal didn't come anywhere near crossing the line and that referee Martin Atkinson called it wrongly. His decision gave Chelsea a 2-0 lead, which eventually turned in to a 5-1 romp. After the match, Atkinson admitted he'd made a mistake.
What is goal-line technology?
In football, 100 per cent of the ball must cross the line to become a goal. Currently that judgment is made by the referee and linesmen, whose views of the incident are often obscured by players, leading to wrong decisions. Some people say video technology is the solution.
Various camera-based technologies are currently being tested by Fifa, but broadly they split into two camps: HawkEye and 'smart ball'.
HawkEye uses six high-speed cameras to track the ball in flight through triangulation. The system needs to see only 25 per cent of the ball to pinpoint its location, getting round the issue of players blocking the view of officials. On the down side, it's not real time, meaning refs will have to stop play on disputed incidents. Plus is could cost up to £250,000 to install in each stadium.
'Smart ball' is pretty much real time, which is its big strength. By using specially-designed match balls containing censors and creating a magnetic field around the goal, the ref could know whether the ball has crossed the line within seconds. Fifa trialed a similar system back in 2005 and scrapped it when it proved only 95 per cent accurate.
What other sports use video technology?
Almost all the big-money sports. Video replays and photo finishes have been around for decades in those sports with a finish line: athletics, swimming, horse racing. Tennis and cricket now both use a HawkEye system for help in line calls and LBWs respectively. Rugby uses video referees on tight try decisions. Football is one of the last bastions against video technology.
What are the arguments against?
First off, there are those who argue it would ruin good old-fashioned grumbling over decisions. They say half the fun of football is debating the ref's big calls. Fifa president Sepp Blatter is among them. He once said: "Fans love to debate any given incident in a game. It is part of the human nature of our sport."
Then there's the suggestion that goal-line technology would change the game in two fundamental ways. First, football's flow would be ruined. Unlike rugby, cricket and tennis, football doesn't constantly stop for pauses (be it for scrums, overs or sets). Forcing refs to stop play for constant video replays would ruin that. Second, football's universality would be undermined. Many bureaucrats cherish the game's simple form which can be replicated everywhere. They say video replays would ruin 'jumpers for goalposts' football.
Finally, there's the issue of cost. If it costs each club the best part of £250k to install the technology, what are the little clubs going do? If video technology looks like it will create further separation between Premier League and lower divisions, expect serious protests.
What are the arguments for?
There really is just one overriding argument: justice. Teams have wrongly lost matches because referees have given goals that didn't cross the line, or disallowed goals that should have been awarded. Human error, not lack of skill or performance, has robbed them of victory. If goal-line technology ensures more correct decisions are made, so the argument goes, it must be bought in.
That's certainly the view of players. When the 48 captains who led teams in the Europa League were polled in 2010 on the subject, 90 per cent of them said they wanted goal-line technology introduced. Judging by post-match comments and media coverage, managers, owners and fans all agree. When those playing, watching, managing and funding football demand change, it's hard to argue it's the wrong thing to do.
So, will Fifa bring in goal-line technology?
Maybe. Football's governing body, notoriously slow to change, has been particularly stubborn on this issue. After testing early prototypes, Blatter announced in March 2008 that Fifa were dropping the proposals. FA chief executive Brian Barwick, who had supported the experiments, lamented that the idea was "dead in the water".
But the long-term pressure from big sponsors and the outrage at Lampard's disallowed goal at the 2010 World Cup has put goal-line technology back on the agenda. Prototypes are currently being tested, with the second round of trials to be completed by the end of May. Blatter has floated the possibility of goal-line technology being in place for the Brazil World Cup in 2014. But, judging from Fifa's past performances, it's not worth holding your breath.