Goal-Line Technology Is a Necessary and Welcome Step for the Premier League

Ryan BaileyFeatured ColumnistFebruary 21, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 02:  A detailed view of the Hawk-Eye camera-based system ahead the international friendly match between England and Belgium at Wembley Stadium on June 2, 2012 in London, England. Goal line technology will be tested in today's game, but not enforced.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

For many years, FIFA President Sepp Blatter was opposed to the implementation of goal-line technology.

His UEFA counterpart Michel Platini was also against the adoption of a system that could automatically tell whether the ball had crossed the line, preferring the less automated (and less accurate) alternative of placing extra officials on the goal line.

The last two major international tournaments, however, appear to have been the catalyst for a sea change in the upper echelons of the game.

At the 2010 World Cup, England were denied a goal against Germany when Frank Lampard's brilliant effort was judged not to have crossed the line. Replays suggest the ball landed at least a yard within the goal mouth.

England were also involved in goal-line controversy at Euro 2012, when hosts Ukraine were denied an equaliser in the group stage when Marko Devic's effort was cleared from behind the line by John Terry.

After the 2010 gaffe, Blatter apologised and promised to re-open the goal-line technology (GLT) debate that he had previously closed the book on. The day after the Euro 2012 incident, the Swiss FIFA leader completely changed his tune, tweeting "#GLT is no longer an alternative but a necessity".

After successful trials at the FIFA Club World Cup, it has now been announced that GLT will be used at the 2014 World Cup.

Both GoalRef—which uses magnetic fields to detect the ball—and the video-based Hawk-Eye systems have been given FIFA approval, with other companies welcome to tender bids.

This week, the Premier League has announced that they are also keen to implement GLT, and may do so as early as next season.

This is great news, and long overdue.

Of course, some people believe that the game is better off without technology. Association football has been fine without technical intervention for over 100 years, they may say. Human error is one of the charming quirks of the game. The technology is too expensive to filter down to lower levels, which would compromise the universal appeal of the beautiful game. This is the first step down a road towards a technological overhaul that will lead to video replays, and constant breaks that will leave the game resembling the NFL.

Yet each of these arguments can be refuted.

In the last century, we have used improving technology to enhance virtually all areas of modern life, so why not football? Many other sports have embraced technology, and it has improved the experience for the participants and the fans.

Cricket has used a "Third Umpire" as an assistant to the on-field officials since 1992. Rugby League and Rugby Union both use video replays. One of the most exciting aspects of attending a professional tennis tournament is watching the Hawk-Eye replays on big screens when a point is challenged. The same kind of drama is provided by technological assistance in the NFL.

The financial stakes of modern football are far too high for a goal-line decision to be left subject to a referee who may be standing ten yards away from the action. Human error may be a quirk, but there is nothing quirky about the prospect of being relegated when a valid goal was judged never to have crossed the line.

For this reason, GLT is a welcome and necessary aid for referees. FIFPro have been asking for it for some time, and Premier League referee Dermot Gallagher has said his colleagues want it as soon as possible (via espnfc.com):

"All referees want it," he said. "Why would you want to wake up in the morning and see a picture of a ball over the line in a match you refereed?

"That will live with you forever. I had one in 2003 at Crystal Palace. Whenever I see Tommy Black he says: 'Every time I walk past your house I spit in your garden'.

Not only will goal-line technology give a more accurate outcome in matches, but it gives referees the peace of mind that they have one less reason to be lambasted. A less doubt-stricken and stressed referee can only be a good thing

If GLT opens the door to greater technological intervention, such as video replays, that can only be a good thing for the Premier League. As I have argued before, the introduction of NFL-style video reviews would ensure greater accuracy, it would cause minimum delay to the flow of the game, it would prevent referee witch hunts and it would bring football in line with other sports that have benefited from technological assistance.

As the most popular league in the world, the Premier League should be a trailblazer with new developments like this. To stand against new technology is to stand against progress, and it is good that the English top flight is not showing the same reticence that once plagued the presidents of UEFA and FIFA.