Video technology under spotlight

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Here we go again. If only we could, once and for all, put this tired debate over video technology in football to bed, writes Rory Squires.

However, much to the chagrin of football's oblivious international governing bodies, the referees just keep making crucial mistakes. No sooner had we forgotten about the injustice of Frank Lampard's 'goal' against Germany at the South Africa World Cup, then two incidents – both incidentally in favour of Tottenham Hotspur – pop up in the space of four days to keep the discussion simmering along in the background. Luckily, this time the so–called major players were not on the receiving end of the officiating errors. There was predictable uproar back in June when Lampard's shot bounced off the underside of the crossbar and clearly over the line with the score at 2–1 to Germany. The goal was not given and Germany went on to win 4–1. FIFA president Sepp Blatter apologised to the English as well as Mexico, which had suffered a similar poor decision against Argentina on the way out of the World Cup, and promised that the subject of video technology would be discussed as soon as possible. Fast forward to last Saturday, with Stoke City pushing for an equaliser against Tottenham in the Barclays Premier League. In the dying seconds, a header from Stoke striker Jon Walters appeared to cross the line before Peter Crouch was able to bundle the ball away. It was unquestionably an extremely difficult call for referee Chris Foy to make on the spot, and with the ball being in mid–air he understandably erred on the side of caution and did not award a goal. In fact, it was only after the replayed action was slowed down to a still shot that the ball, lodged in the midriff of Peter Crouch, can be seen as just over the line. No blame can be apportioned to the referee there. However, UEFA president Michel Platini appeared to suggest those officials who missed Tottenham's second large slice of luck in quick succession should be punished. With Tottenham 1–0 up and the scores tied 3–3 on aggregate against in a play–off to qualify for the Champions League against Young Boys of Berne on Wednesday, Defoe clearly handled the ball before putting his team 2–0, and on the way to a 4–0 win on the night. This time, there was an extra official behind the goalline – and one at the other end too, in fact – but he missed it. The incident has been largely swept under the carpet. After all, Tottenham is a bigger gain for the UEFA Champions League than Young Boys of Berne, and the former has far more followers than the latter. So predictably, whilst there were apologies for England and Mexico in June when millions were watching, Stoke and Young Boys have not been afforded the same treatment by the game's rule–makers. There was no apology from Platini over the five–official system that failed so miserably during a match that was worth millions of euros to both clubs, and could have catapulted Young Boys to a new level. However, there was a pledge for "zero tolerance" from the UEFA chief. "I think it (the five–official approach) is a very good system, " he said on Thursday. "We have always been very tolerant as referees cannot see everything, as with Thierry Henry (against the Republic of Ireland) and the Lampard goal against Germany. Now with this system they can see everything. If they cannot see if it's gone in they should get another job. If you cannot see the ball has crossed the line from three metres away then you are no good. There should be near zero tolerance with regard to referees because they should be able to see everything now. "Tough talking from Platini, but what exactly does "zero tolerance" mean? Drop the officials for a week? Ban them indefinitely? Shove them out in front of a firing squad? If referees are punished for every key error they make in Europe, UEFA will run out of officials very quickly indeed. It should be remembered that Platini has done many good things since becoming president of UEFA. The jury is out on his financial guidelines, but if they do work, they will help to transform football into a financially sustainable sport, without the need for CVAs, debt–loaded takeovers and inflated wage–to–revenue ratios. However, by siding with Blatter on video technology, his spurious "zero tolerance" statement is not his finest moment. There is simply no logical reason why football's authorities continue to bury their heads in the sand and dismiss the need for video technology. Their numerous reasons for not introducing something that would clearly benefit the game are becoming less and less credible. One reason they give is that they don't want the top games to be different from the others; perish the thought of there being a hierarchy that would only allow the rich leagues to use the technology. However, that hierarchy already exists as some games under UEFA's jurisdiction are already afforded the 'benefit' of having five officials on the turf. There is also an argument that the introduction of the technology would open a Pandora's box of appeals for numerous incidents, which would disrupt the flow of the game. However, in tennis and cricket, the teams are given a limited number of referrals, while in rugby, a decision is only referred to the video referee for crucial, try–scoring incidents. It is also worth noting that, in a game where players can time–waste and roll around in agony for minutes on end, checking a crucial, game–changing incident for 30 seconds will hardly kill a game. In fact, studies from FIFA have shown that, on average, the ball is moving on the field of play for only around 55% of a normal football match. Some footballing authorities have questioned in the past whether the technology is accurate enough to implement. Well, even in cricket – a sport where the umpire's decision used to be sacrosanct – hawk–eye technology has been introduced to enable players to appeal decisions. Surely the opportunity to see something more than once simply increases the possibility of making the right call? However, perhaps the most ludicrous suggestion of them all is that it would cost too much to implement the systems. Hawkeye has even said it would install the systems for free at Premier League grounds as the marketing exposure for the company would pay for the systems several times over. The cost of the system is no reason to make it prohibitive for leagues, which can surely decide for themselves whether it is worth the expense. The only argument that has any credibility at all, and that interestingly those at the top have not used, is that the traditional format allows for controversial talking points which form a key part of the mystery and attraction of football. Some say that video technology would somehow take away from the spectacle of the sport. But in an age where key decisions can cost coaches their jobs and clubs history–changing fortunes, such an argument is quickly forgotten by those within the game. Countless articles have been written in support of introducing video technology, particularly since the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, but it is now time that FIFA, and the sport's rule–makers, either adopted a video technology system or finally gave a real reason why they appear to be so against something that would undoubtedly improve the game. In June, Blatter pledged to discuss the issue as soon as possible. However, it was not discussed at a FIFA meeting in July. It could be discussed at a meeting in October, but how many more crucial calls will be missed by officials before then? In two months` time, surely FIFA would not have the cheek to ignore the subject, yet again, and hope it goes away? Every time the matter is bypassed at a FIFA meeting and every time a team is wronged in a match, the arguments from those at the top become increasingly difficult to fathom. It is almost certain that the best we can hope for at the FIFA meeting in October is for football's administrators to say, "let's have debate about it". But it's already a tired debate, and enough is enough. Most observers of the sport have already made up their minds that the introduction of video technology into football should be a matter of when, not if. So why can't football's authorities finally end this farcical debate, not in a few months or years, but now? Who knows. But one thing is for sure – they are running out of excuses. In related news, the Australian Football League (AFL) has taken a step towards the introduction of video technology with Channel Ten set to trial video reviews of goal umpiring decisions. Two cameras were set to be inserted into goalposts at the end–August Collingwood–Hawthorn game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). Channel Ten's head of football coverage David Barham told SEN radio the cameras would be unobtrusive, adding: "(The vision is) going straight into an EBS quick replay machine so we should be able to turn around (the images) within three to four seconds. So I guess they're (the AFL) going to have a look at it and see if it works. " While goal umpires have previously only made a handful of errors over the course of the entire AFL season, Round 19 of the Australian Rules season witnessed three glaring errors, including one that denied Geelong a goal at a key moment of its high–profile clash against Collingwood, leading to the calls for change. About The Sport Briefing This story has been reproduced with the kind permission of The Sport Briefing. 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