Sports have kept in touch with technology as the information age has changed the face of modern games. Cricket, basketball, rugby, tennis, American football, and a plethora of other sports employ video technology in order to help referees make decisions and review calls. However, football, arguably the world’s most popular sport, has yet to integrate video technology into its rules. Although I disagree with the majority of FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s opinions, I am in concord with him distancing football from the use of video technology.
Several controversial incidents have caused a public outcry for video technology to be implemented in football, most notably Ireland’s loss to France in World Cup Qualifying due to a Thierry Henry handball. Smaller errors that occur almost week in week out often go unnoticed to the public eye, but these mistakes by referees often have large implications on the season’s outcome. The media has decided that video technology is the answer to all their problems, and that if implemented, will eradicate almost all problems from refereeing.
Thierry Henry’s infamous handball against Ireland
However, there lie several complications that will crop up if video technology is ever introduced in football. The subjective nature of refereeing and time-delayed alerts mean that it will be extremely difficult for video technology to have a profound impact on football.
The outcome of a football match is at the sole discretion of the referee: he has the authority to abandon a match and dictate gameplay. While the majority of referees do not abuse their powers, several “styles of refereeing” are obvious during a football match. Some referees tend to stop play whenever they see a foul whereas others value gameplay and prefer to allow the game to flow. This distinction between officiating styles is vital because it highlights the subjective nature of refereeing. A particular referee could decide an incident in the 18-yard box to be a penalty while another might consider it a case of diving.
On the other hand, video technology places importance on objectivity: was the player offside? did the ball cross the line? This black and white nature of video technology would rarely influence decision-making in a football match. Referees could see slow-motion replays of incidents but still arrive at different conclusions based on their interpretation of the rules. For example, video replay might show that a player’s hand did indeed make contact with the ball, but it would be up to the discretion of the referee to adjudge whether it was ball-to-hand or hand-to-ball.
Thus, there are only a few objective scenarios where video technology actually be of assistance to the referee, such as whether or not a player was offside or if the ball completely crossed the goalline. However, not even all of these objective decisions could be resolved by video technology.
Any implementation of video technology would require at least a few second delay in processing the information of an event and passing it on to the referee. This means that there will exist incidents where video technology detracts, rather than assists, the gameplay of the match. Consider this scenario: Drogba was actually onside before he scored against Manchester United but the linesman flagged him as offside. The referee would stop play and award United an indirect freekick, but Chelsea would appeal the decision and video technology would show that Drogba was indeed onside. How would the referee give the advantage back to Chelsea? Giving them a freekick would be unfair as it would not necessarily give them a clear goalscoring opportunity that might have occurred had Drogba not been flagged offside. In the real world, video technology would have ruled Drogba’s goal offside, but is implementing such an expensive technology worth solving only a handful of officiating problems?
Video technology is only useful for black and white decisions
In any case, referees are human and mistakes will inevitably occur under any circumstance. FIFA should impose stricter consequences on refereeing mistakes and propose a referee promotion/points system that will improve the quality of officiating instead of implementing an artificial technology that will inevitably be futile.
The beauty of football lies in the fact that it is a “natural” game. The game that is played by millions in their local park is the exact same game that earns professionals millions of dollars. Introducing video technology truly makes “natural” football an endangered species as nearly ever aspect of the game would become a business. In fact, controversy adds a bit of spice to the football.. without it, the passion of the game disappears.. and we are left with a sport that values business over beauty.
Joga Bonito. Árbitro bonito.