The Technology Debate

FIFA President Sepp Blatter  Courtesy of

FIFA President Sepp Blatter
Courtesy of

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Written by Jordan Cirocco


Due to the fragile nature of the game, the use of goal-line technology has always been a hotly contested debate. This debate finally reached a boiling point during the 2010 World Cup, where two crucial referee errors within the same day changed the course of two games in the Round of 16. This page will go into the perfect storm of events that led to the 2010 World Cup becoming a turning point in the technology debate.

Click on the links below to visit each sub topic of The Technology Debate!

FIFA’s stance on goal-line technology prior to the World Cup

The goal-line technology debate began picking up steam in 2005 after Tottenham midfielder Pedro Mendes was denied a game-winning goal against Manchester United [1]. The United keeper, Roy Carroll, misplayed the shot from 50 yards out, allowing the ball to cross over the goal line. However, Carroll was able to pull the ball back over the line before a referee or assistant was able to position himself to make the correct call. This incident, known as the “phantom goal” brought to light the inability of the referees and linesman to make calls when out of position.

The incident sparked rising support in the implementation of goal-line technology, even among referees. Shortly after the incident, Referee Chief Keith Hackett put forth a proposal for the use of goal-line technology [1]. The International Football Association Board agreed to begin testing of the technology in the 2005 U-17 World Championships [2]. FIFA President Sepp Blatter did not offer support during this brief stint, calling for further testing in the 2007 World Club Championships. After a seemingly successful stint in these World Club Championships, where the technology helped to successfully overturn a signaled goal, Blatter put a stop to the goal line technology. Blatter discredited the technology’s performance, claiming that signal interference caused the technology to fail during one of the games.

Rather than continuing with the testing of goal line technologies, FIFA decided to explore alternative solutions. During the 2008 Europa League Season, the International Football Association Board endorsed the use of two additional Assistant Referees [3]. The IFAB decided that the two additional referees were to be positioned alongside each goal, and would have the ability to make recommendations to the head referee. The idea of assistants allowed for an extra set of eyes to monitor incidents occurring in the penalty area, a crucial area of the pitch that can sometimes be difficult for the head referee to monitor.

The IFAB offered further support of the human solution to referee error, announcing on March 6, 2010 that the board voted against the use of goal line technology [2]. This announcement quickly backfired, as an assistant referee disallowed a clear goal in an FA cup match played later that day. Instead of apologizing for the referee error, FIFA released the following statement, accepting human error as part of the game: “Technology should not enter into the game. It was a clear statement made by the majority of the IFAB. The main part of the game should be humans – players and referees” [4].

With increasing pressure by players, coaches, and referees for the implementation of goal line technology, Blatter released a statement before the start of the World Cup outlining the eight reasons why goal line technology should not be integrated into the sport [5]. The eight reasons listed can be grouped into three main categories: nature of the game, issues related to justice, and practicality of implementation.

While all eight reasons offered some sort of argument against implementation, several of his reasons could be easily debated, including those involving practicality of implementation and reliability. It was evident that FIFA’s argument was meant to appeal to soccer purists, who agreed that human error was an important part of the game.

Three specific points can be picked out from his argument to support this claim. Blatter’s first argument deals with the universality of the game, stating that the game must incorporate the same rules at every level of play [5]. Blatter argued that implementation of the technology would not be feasible below the top level of competition, thus negating the universal nature of the game. Additionally, Blatter believed that goal line technology would affect the fluidity with which the game is played. In other sports, replay technology demands a break in the action, which is a luxury that is not afforded by the continuous nature of soccer. Finally, Blatter argues that the implementation of goal line technology would “open the door” for further expansion of replay. Eventually, calls will be made for replay to assist in calls involving offside, penalties, and any other decisions that could affect the outcome of the game. This argument ties into the fluidity of the game, which will be interrupted if every controversial call in a match requires confirmation by replay technology.

A complete outline of Blatter’s argument can be found here.

Pre-World Cup Controversy

With Ireland on the verge of World Cup qualification, Thierry Henry handled a ball leading up to the decisive goal in the 104th minute for France [6]. This goal in extra time tied the game at 1-1, allowing France to advance from the two-legged playoff on a 2-1 aggregate. Despite pleas from the Irish players that the ball was handled, the referee granted the French team the goal. This incident refueled the debate for replay technology, as a nation lost its opportunity to qualify for the World Cup due to a crucial referee error that could have been easily corrected.

Following the game, Henry admitted to handling the ball stating, “I will be honest it was a handball but I’m not a referee” [7]. The incident sparked much debate on the ability of referee errors to compromise the integrity of the game. The Irish FA issued a formal complaint to FIFA, requesting a replay of the second leg of the playoff. However, FIFA shot down the complaint, citing that “… the result of the match cannot be changed and the match cannot be replayed. As is clearly mention in the Laws of the Game, during matches, decisions are taken by the referee and these decisions are final.” This interpretation of the Laws of the Game further signified the need for the safety net of video replay, as all referee decisions were deemed final, regardless of whether the decisions are correct or not.

For a more in-depth analysis of the France-Ireland playoff, check out the French Implosion sub page

The Perfect Storm – Round of 16

The debate for goal-line technology reached a boiling point after two controversial referee decisions affected the course of two matches on the same day in the round of 16.

The first match featured the return of the “ghost goal”, with the referees failing to award a goal to England’s Frank Lampard, who’s shot clearly crossed the goal line before the German’s Manuel Neuer could bring the ball back [8]. Lampard’s goal would have tied the game at 2, giving the English momentum heading into halftime. Germany ended up taking advantage of the referee’s error, tacking on two goals in the second half en route to a 4-1 win. English players were very vocal about the error following the game, pledging their support for the use goal-line technology. Steven Gerrard questioned FIFA officials, wondering, “Why aren’t the players ever asked? I’m sure that most of them would vote for goal line technology to be introduced” [9].

While the disallowed Lampard goal alone provided enough evidence to convince Blatter to reopen the debate on goal line technology, another crucial referee mistake during the second match intensified the pressure on FIFA officials to finally enter the technology revolution in sports. With Mexico and Argentina both looking to strike early in their round of 16 match, a missed offside call allowed Argentinean forward Carlos Tevez to net the opening goal of the match [10]. Video replay within the stadium clearly showed the referee’s gaffe, sparking clashes between the officials and Mexican players and coaches. Argentina used the momentum gained from this first goal en route to a 3-1 victory.

This perfect storm of refereeing errors marked the turning point in the technology debate, as FIFA could no longer ignore the calls for implementation of goal line technology.

FIFA’s Reaction

Following the negative backlash of the two referee errors, FIFA decided to censor replays of controversial incidents on the screens inside the stadium [11]. This decision came immediately after a replay of the Tevez goal fueled an argument between Mexican players and the game officials.

Mexican players react to officials after controversial goal.  Courtesy of

Mexican players react to officials after watching the replay of  Argentina’s first goal.
Courtesy of

In addition to censoring the in-stadium replays, Referees Jorge Larrionda and Roberto Rosetti were relieved of their remaining World Cup duties [12]. He followed up their dismissal with a plan to improve the quality of referees for the 2014 World Cup. Blatter issued a statement supporting the notion that only full-time referees should be used in the World Cup [13]. Blatter believed that the lower quality officiating of the 2010 World Cup could be attributed to the fact that only two of the 30 officials selected for South Africa listed refereeing as their full-time job. With FIFA already installing a global Refereeing Assistance Program to assist in training of upcoming officials, Blatter focused on providing incentives for top officials.

Finally, FIFA President Sepp Blatter issued a statement of apology to the two nations, insisting that the debate for goal line technology would be reopened at the next available opportunity [14]. Blatter was adamant that the debate would only open up for goal-line situations, and therefore, would not have affected the ruling on the Tevez goal. He continued to argue that the fluidity of the game does not allow for the use of replay on situations that would interrupt the flow of play. Additionally, he believes that the human element still deserves a place in the sport.

FIFA’s Decision

In April 2013, FIFA announced the approval of a single goal line technology system to be implemented in a trial during the Confederations Cup [15]. The German company GoalControl was selected as the winner among four companies competing for trial approval. After a successful stint during the Confederations Cup, FIFA released a statement in October confirming the use of the GoalControl technology for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The GoalControl technology correctly evaluated all 68 goals scored during the Confederations Cup, thus extending the license for use in the 2014 World Cup.

While FIFA moved forward with the implementation of goal line technology, UEFA President Michel Platini still believed in the human route to correct referee disputes. UEFA officials agreed on the implementation of two assistant referees for Champions and Europa League matches [16]. Platini, who is rumored to be next in line for president of FIFA, believes that the money needed for implementation of the new technology can be better used for other purposes, stating, “Honestly I prefer to put more money into youth football and infrastructure than spend it on technology when there’s a goal in a blue moon that hasn’t been seen by the referee.”

UEFA President Michel Platini. Courtesy of

UEFA President Michel Platini.
Courtesy of

Goal Line Technology

The GoalControl technology uses 14 high-speed cameras around the pitch to track the 3D position of the ball [17]. If the technology senses that the position of the ball crosses the goal line, the referee is alerted within one second after the ball has crossed the line through a signal on a watch. The cameras are extremely accurate in determining the position of the ball, having the capability of updating the position of the ball every two milliseconds. The technology costs around £170,000 per stadium to install, and £2,800 per match for maintenance.

The video below demonstrates the signaling of a goal to the referee’s watch after the ball completely crosses the goal line.


Where Do We Draw the Line?

While I agree with the implementation of goal line technology at the high levels of the sport, I do understand the “slippery slope” argument that worries officials. As best put by UEFA President Michel Platini, “I am not against the goal-line technology, I am against the beginning of the technology. Because if one day you put the goal line technology, then the offside technology, then the corner line technology, then the 18 metres technology, and you will lose.” After the perfect storm of referee errors, Blatter was forced to choose between three options for a solution to the human error aspect of the game. The first option would be to embrace the human error aspect of the game, which would not have satisfied both the English and Mexican fans. The second option involved implementation of goal line technology, which would satisfy the disgruntled English fans. However, this option would not address the issue of the missed offside call seen in the Mexico-Argentina game. Finally, Blatter had the option to implement full-scale replay of controversial calls, satisfying all slighted fans of the World Cup.

Blatter ultimately chose the second option, which both helped to quell the goal line technology debate and minimize the affect on fluidity of the game. While I understand the concern over the break in game play that replay requires, I feel that Blatter did not sufficiently explore methods of replay systems. While we want to avoid a situation similar to the NFL, where video replays are commonplace and often result in an extended stoppage of play, I think it would be useful for FIFA to look into a model similar to that of the NHL.

The NHL employs a referee assistant, known as the “Video Goal Judge”, who has the power to review any incidents undetected by the on-ice official that resulted in a disputed goal [18]. For example, if the referee were to miss a goal scored by a player kicking the puck into the goal – an action that is defined as illegal in the NHL rulebook – the Video Goal Judge has the power to review the replay and inform the on-ice referee of the infraction. This could be applied to a situation in soccer, where a video replay official has the power to disallow a goal scored by a player in the offside position.

The implementation of someone similar to a Video Judge Official in soccer would allow for a human to still determine the outcome of a call. Additionally, this would allow for the IFAB to expand the role of replay technology beyond determining whether or not a ball has crossed the goal line. This expanded role allows for rulings on plays that result in incorrect rulings far more frequently that disallowed goals of balls crossing the goal line. Furthermore, allowing for direct communication between the video judge and head referee would result in quick rulings that would minimize the affect on the flow of the games.

While the implementation of a video replay judge sounds good in theory, the debate of where to draw the line would still be present. FIFA officials would still need to decide whether or not replay should be extended to incidents other than goal scoring opportunities. Extension of replay to fouls and other infractions could have a serious affect on the fluidity with which the game is played. On the other hand, replay would ensure that an infraction, such as a hand ball in the box, is not missed, completely changing the course of the game.

With the implementation of Goal Line Technology during the 2014 World Cup providing a safety net for referees facing goal line decision, FIFA officials can rest easy knowing that they will escape the backlash faced from the Lampard disallowed goal. However, FIFA officials should be ready moving forward, as the next big controversy could spark a whole new debate for extension of replay technology within the sport.


[1] Wheeler, Chris. “Roy Carrol, Pedro Mendes, the linesman, Gordon McQueen… no one can forget Spurs’ phantom goal against Manchester United.” The Daily Mail. Associated Newspapers Ltd., 23 April 2010. Web. 8 December 2013.

[2] Rudd, Stephen. “Is Sepp Blatter for Real?” Football Fancast. 8 Match 2010. Web. 8 December 2013.

[3] “UEFA Europa League to provide testing ground for IFAB additional assistant referees experiment.” FIFA. 28 August 2009. Web. 9 December 2013.

[4] Doyle, Paul. “Frederic Piquionne’s double gives Portsmouth something to smile about.” The Guardian. 6 March 2010. Web. 9 December 2013.

[5] Ryall, Emily. “Are There Any Good Arguments Against Goal Line Technology.” Web. 4 December 2013.

[6] “2009 Republic of Ireland vs France football matches.” Wikipedia. 7 December 2013. Web. 4 December 2013.

[7] “Irish ‘cheated’ by Henry handball.” BBC. 19 November 2009. Web. 4 December 2013.

[8] “World Cup 2010: Blatter apologises for disallowed goal.” BBC. 29 June 2010. Web. 4 December 2013.

[9] “Steven Gerrard calls on FIFA to reopen goalline technology debate.” The Guardian. 4 July 2010. Web. 9 December 2013.

[10] Kaufman, Michelle. “Goal-line technology should be must-see TV in World Cup soccer. Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. 30 June 2010. Web. 8 December 2013.

[11] “FIFA: Replay of Tevez goal ‘a mistake’.” ESPN. Associated Press, 28 June 2010. Web. 8 December 2013.

[12] “Blundering officials sent home.” ESPN. Soccernet Staff, 29 June 2010. Web. 8 December 2013.

[13] “Sepp Blatter: Officiating a top priority.” ESPN. Associated Press, 29 August 2010. Web. 9 December 2013.

[14] “World Cup 2010: Blatter apologises for disallowed goal.” BBC. 29 June 2010. Web. 4 December 2013.

[15] Drayton, John. “German company to be in charge of World Cup goal-line technology.” The Daily Mail. 10 October 2013. Web. 4 December 2013.

[16] Bell, Jack. “FIFA Selects Goal-Line System.” The New York Times. 2 April 2013. Web. 9 December 2013.

[17] Williamson, Laura. “Germany 2 England 1 in goal-line technology saga as Hawk-Eye miss out on FIFA contract (but they could win Premier League deal).” The Daily Mail. 2 April 2013. Web. 9 December 2013.

[18] “Rule 38 – Video Goal Judge.” NHL. Web. 9 December 2013.


How to cite this article: “The Technology Debate” Written by Jordan Cirocco (2013), Soccer Politics Pages, Soccer Politics Blog, Duke University, (accessed on (date)). – See more at:

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