Technophobic Football

It was a cold winter morning. The sun was acting coy and playing hard-to-get, taking more time to come out than as is customary for this part of the world during this time of the year. My uncle Willie stood at the solitary window watching the impending, much-delayed dawn, while the T.V was on in the living room behind him. As I walked into the room, I saw that a sports channel was on, and the reporters were excited about how FIFA had just announced that goal-line technology would be used at the World Cup in Brazil. Suddenly, Uncle Willie spoke out in a pensive yet hopeful way. “The dawn of a new era is upon us, my boy. Long have I suffered in its anticipation, and now it’s finally happening.”

It was only during breakfast that I realized that Uncle Willie was referring to Aunt Bertha’s special steak-and-kidney pie, and how she had agreed to make it after a long gap of 12 years. Why, you ask? Well, that’s a story for a different time, and it is concerned with the beautiful game too. Anyway, so it turns out that Uncle Willie wasn’t even listening to the news about goal-line technology, and that’s a good thing. Because, just like other Puritans, he would have had his blood boiling over. “What do we need those blasted technologies for? They are the work of the Devil, I tell you!”  Ah, well. As for me, I’m a football fan. Yes, I too support a particular club, but I’m a fan of the beautiful game first. I like to see deserving teams win, and I swear by fair play. Yes, my Uncle Willie would bash my head in for having what he would call ‘effeminate’ thoughts about a manly game, but that’s that.  Anyway, yeah , the goal-line technology. FIFA has announced that the four systems that have officially been recognized for this, namely HawkEye, GoalRef, GoalControl 3D and Cairos will all participate in a tender to provide goal-line technology at this year’s Confederations Cup and the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

I feel that it’s been needed for a long time, and I’m certainly happy that it’s finally taking place. Think of all the matches that could have taken a different route had the correct decisions been made about allowing/disallowing goals based on whether or not they actually crossed the line completely. Yes, there are some very well known ones, like Lampard’s scorcher against Germany in the 2010 World Cup, which would’ve been one of the contenders for Goal of The Tournament had it been given, and more importantly, would’ve brought England back into the game. And who can forget Sir Geoff Hurst’s famous hat-trick in ’66? We STILL don’t know whether the second goal crossed the line. However, think more clearly, and one realises that the ‘smaller‘ decisions made by the officials on the pitch affect the outcome of a game more severely. For example, offside decisions and fouls. Yes, offside-decisions may not always directly decide whether or not the score of the attacking team is to be increased by one (we all know of strikers that love missing simple one-on-ones with the goalie) but these mistakes are made much more frequently by the officials, as compared to the goal-line ones. As for the fouls, mistakes in these decisions can make or break the game completely. Look at last week’s encounter between Manchester United and Real Madrid. I’m not saying that Nani’s tackle definitely WASN’T a red card, but there is a very big chance that the official would’ve taken a different call had he seen the replay immediately on the big screen.


And that is the whole point. Goal-line technologies use cameras and magnetic fields (the four technologies mentioned above use one of these), but we cannot possibly implement this throughout the pitch for tracking the offside line.  Thus, the only logical idea is to follow cricket, and use the oldest technology known to sports: Replays. As soon as a decision is made, if the referee feels he’s not sure about it, he makes a gesture and another referee in a control room watches replays from different angles and comes to a decision, like the Third Umpire in cricket. For example, Ashley Young goes down in the box. Mark Clattenberg is not sure if he’s been tripped, or whether he’s just indulging in his favourite hobby. What does he do? Blow the whistle, make a pre-decided gesture, and get the answer in a minute. If the first case is correct, he brandishes a card for the defender and points to the spot. If the second case is true, he brandishes a card for Young and offers him his membership at the Royal Swimming Pool. Similarly, for an offside decision, the referee allows play to continue  in case of a controversial-appearing raised flag, and sees the end result. Let us assume that the striker scores.  The referee asks his friend in the control room for his opinion. If it’s an offside, free-kick to the defending team. If it’s not, the goal stands. All in all, win-win.

Not quite. Many people strongly berate this idea due to different reasons. These two are the most commons ones:

1)      It will make the game slower. While this idea should ideally be used only for controversial decisions, it will undoubtedly make the referees more careless, knowing that there is a ‘Big Brother’ to look up to when in doubt. And so as to absolve themselves of all possible criticisms, they might resort to taking his help every few minutes, maybe even for trivial matters like obvious handballs in a harmless part of the pitch. Football is the most popular game in the world, and along with its simplicity, one of the other main reasons is its fast-paced environment. Imagine the beautiful game being paused every 3-4 minutes for an enter minute because the referee can’t decide which team should take the throw-in.

2)       It will take away the ‘human’ element of the game, and make debates and arguments obsolete. Okay, so I don’t really care about this point, but if you ask any red-blooded football fan, he will definitely tell you that the argument is a form of art in its own right. The people who uphold this point also say that football, as a game, should retain its human touch with regards to refereeing decisions, and that it should not be overly ‘mechanized’. Again, I don’t really agree with this, but this is what a majority of  fans around the world feel.

Thus, there are many factors to be taken into consideration, many more than the length of my article allows me to postulate upon, anyway. Having said this, it’s obvious that the technology for my idea has been existing for decades. Why, then, hasn’t it been implemented? I’m sure the men at the top of the Footballing Pyramid have their reasons. I’ve just expanded upon two of them above, but I’m sure there are more. I just hope that these reasons exist purely for the betterment of the game, and not for the satisfaction of overweight bureaucrats with turgid wallets.

Parth Rajwade

Technology Consultant who loves reading, working on his novel, imbibing whiskey and beer, and screaming at the telly during Arsenal games