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Video Technology: Reasons for and Against Using Replays in Football

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 31:  Javier Hernandez of Manchester United gestures during the Capital One Cup Fourth Round match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on October 31, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Clive Rose/Getty Images
Shona BlackContributor IIJanuary 9, 2017

In world football, there is nothing quite so infuriating as a result dictated by bad refereeing decisions—unless it's the glacial pace at which the sport's governing bodies address the problem. 

Every time a goal is incorrectly ruled offside, a blatant dive is rewarded with a penalty, a handball goes unpunished or a linesman fails to see whether the ball has crossed the goal line, the familiar cries go up around the world of football.

Why can't football implement video technology, as virtually every other professional sport already has?

In many ways, resistance to video technology in football revolves around an issue that has defined the game since its inception—the battle between amateurism and professionalism.

From its amateur roots in the 19th century, football has largely been governed by men who regard professionalism as a corrupting influence—even as they themselves profit from it, as the game has expanded into a multibillion-dollar global business. 

Paradoxically, the instinct to preserve the supposed purity of the game has historically tended to do the exact opposite. 

The maximum wage caused more rather than less corruption, as clubs schemed up innumerable creative accounting ways around the law. 

Similarly, the naive insistence on the primacy of the referee and refusal to introduce video technology rewards and encourages gamesmanship—and even outright cheating. 

Yet with the best of intentions, figures like UEFA president Michel Platini continue to regard technology as an unnatural intrusion into the organic flow of the game.

Practical concerns highlight the time issue. 

If the game were to be stopped to review every questionable decision, wouldn't that irrevocably alter the character of football? Wouldn't the natural fluidity of the game degrade into a lengthy and frustrating stop-start pattern more similar to American football?

Advocates of video technology point to its successful use in rugby and ice hockey, sports whose similar quick pace has been minimally impacted.

Clearly, preserving the character of the game is more a matter of judicious and efficient implementation than blanket condemnation of technology suggests.

But this objection points to another stumbling block in the road to technologically advanced officiating—the idea that soccer is somehow almost mystically different from other sports.

That refereeing is an art, not a science.

That even wrong decisions add to the flavour and appeal of the sport.

That each game is governed by its own mysterious internal fatalism, the ebb and flow producing a chain of events that directs the match wherever it is "meant" to go.

Much of this thinking is flawed. 

The oft-repeated but scantily documented idea that bad decisions "even themselves out" over time may act as consolation in the league, but it's rendered meaningless in knockout formats.

And obviously, as the sheer volume of money in the sport raises it from "only a game" to serious big business, there is little tolerance for such quasi-mystical governance.

Nonetheless, there are valid concerns over the practicality of video technology in a sport where so much officiating is subjective.

Intent cannot be captured on camera. Nor can projections of probability—what constitutes a clear scoring opportunity, for example.

The fact that contentious decisions are seldom settled in the media or public eye even on exhaustive examination of slow-motion replays does suggest that video technology has limitations in football.

It is clear that standards of refereeing in football need to be dragged out of the 19th century. Goal-line technology has finally gained general acceptance, and its implementation should be imminent.

But video technology remains contentious—and its value is as yet far from proven.

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