Better eyes for football referees

  • Hawk-Eye technology used in cricket. Image credit:
  • Hawk-Eye technology used in cricket. Image credit:
  • Hawk-Eye technology used in tennis. Image credit:
  • Hawk-Eye technology used in tennis. Image credit:
Date:27 June 2010 Tags:

By now, anyone who has been following the World Cup would have heard about the erroneously disallowed England goal. It was clear to all the viewers that it was a goal. It was clear to the players and coaches on both sides. Unfortunately it wasn't all that clear to the referee and his assistants (they used to be called linesmen).

Predictably, it has caused an outcry among fans and players. They’re demanding the introduction of some kind of goal-line technology. And why not? Tennis, cricket and rugby all use technology to assist with decisions. Why can't football?

One technology being looked at is Hawk-Eye, developed in 2001. By means of triangulation, and using several high-speed cameras, it computes ball position in relation to a predefined framework. In a nutshell, it sees where the ball is, where the ball was and where the ball will be. Clever stuff indeed.

As can be expected, this technology has not been without its own controversy. According to the Hawk-Eye Web site, the system has a documented margin of error of 3,6 mm. Clearly, there are going to be times when it's going to be close. The reversal of one such decision so agitated tennis No 1 Roger Federer during the 2007 Wimbledon final that he requested (unsuccessfully) that the umpire turn off Hawk-Eye for the remainder of the match.

Of course there are going to be issues. But you get right down to it, the technology should simply be seen as an aid to the humans involved in making the decision. Must the software make the actual decision? I don’t think it should.

So why hasn't it been implemented yet in football? Cricket has been using it since 2001, and tennis has been using it since around 2004. The official answer from FIFA president Sepp Blatter is that football's appeal lies in the fact that children in a park can play by the exact same rules as Premier League stars. Goal-line technology would destroy this, he says. Instead of using technology, FIFA has stated that it plans to continue a trial which involves additional referees standing behind each goal.

I think the sooner that some kind of technology is applied to the decision-making of contentious goals the better. At the very least it will allow the referees to sleep a little easier. To put it mildly, football fans can get a little grumpy when things don’t go their way and I don’t see this particular referee getting any sleep anytime soon. When Jorge Larrionda, the Uruguayan official who was responsible for yesterday’s disallowed goal saw the replay on the big screen, he was heard to exclaim: “Oh my God!”

I bet you anything he’s praying for Hawk-Eye technology now.

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