It was with resignation and regret, but very little surprise that I saw that UEFA had decided to experiment with two additional referee’s assistants in next season’s inaugural Europa League.
The reason for these extra officials is to try and stamp out all those controversial goal-line incidents which managers, fans, players and the media like to pin the ills of the world upon.
Fouls may go unpunished, handballs not spotted and appeals for corners declined; but what really irks all those with a vested interest in football is a debate over whether a goal should be awarded because no one can state categorically if it crossed the line.
The reason for why this is so high on our list of priorities is simple. A goal in football is the most valuable currency in sport. No other sport can claim to have the metric for deciding a winner happen so infrequently; and because of this we deserve clarity when we believe one may have been scored.
Football is not alone in wanting key decisions to be made correctly. In fact, football is years behind many sports in its use of technology to make sure controversy is kept to a minimum.
Video referrals are common place in the NHL, NFL; in tennis, cricket baseball, basketball and countless others.
The officials that govern football across its myriad ruling bodies recognise that controversy generated by poor officiating; especially that caused by questionable decisions relating to the awarding of goals, is bad for the game and needs to be dealt with. In top level football there is too much at stake these days to allow for incorrect judgements to be made on goal-line events on the field of play.
However, their commitment to actually doing anything about it leaves a lot to be desired. You do not need to be a technological genius to work out that a simple video referral could greatly reduce goal-line controversy, and eradicate the repetitive bleating of wronged-against managers.
A more advanced method would be a micro-chip in the ball which triggers a sensor when it crosses the line between the posts and under the cross-bar. I am not an electrical engineer, so cannot state precisely how this would work, but how difficult can it be? And in terms of expense, it cannot cost more than some managers will claim an erroneously disallowed goal costs a football club.
UEFA however do not seem to want to embrace modernity and make the most of cheap and readily available technology. No, they seem intent on piling yet more pressure on the already over-burdened officials.
Football has always shied from technology because it wants to retain the "human element" that makes the sport "flow". I would not object to this if the governing bodies, the participants and the media did not spend every possible opportunity criticising the very "humans" who are charged with making the decisions in the first place.
UEFA’s choice of an experimental solution to solving goal-line disputes is to install an official on each goal-line to keep an eye out for all those awkward moments. This is apparently to retain the "human element" that football law-makers have deemed so important.
This is a ludicrous decision and one which will only serve to bring officials even further into the spotlight.
How difficult can it be to have one person in a box in the stadium studying an incident on video? In most cases the decision would be made in seconds once the replays had been shown. Disruption to the flow of the game is a key concern, but surely this will be minimal—certainly a lot less than another week of analysis of how a hapless official got it wrong.
Whether there are extra officials employed specifically to watch the goal-line or not, they still have the capacity to get it wrong if they have to make a judgement in real time. An official studying video has an exponentially increased chance of getting it right. That has to be good for the referees, the governing bodies, the fans and the clubs.
In fact, is there a drawback? The time delay perhaps? My belief is that even if it takes two minutes, it is worth it for something that is so vitally important.
The fact is UEFA, have made a half-hearted attempt to try and reduce controversy in the game. Their decision is not a solution, but merely the stepping stone to greater problems. We already live in a time when people find it necessary to make death threats to referees who allegedly make poor decisions; now there will be two more officials in the firing line.
When technology is available it should be used. Everyone associated with the game deserves to have the best possible decisions made as often as possible. It seems a very basic request.
I am not suggesting that video should be used to verify every decision that officials make on the field; but when the very integrity of the score-line is being questioned it is imperative that decisions are given every opportunity to be correct.
Whether UEFA ever decide to use video referrals is yet to be seen, but it appears that they already see themselves as flag-bearers for solving the problems of goal-line disputes. This in itself represents the major problem; that a governing body with so much power and influence can be so stunted in their thinking, yet still believe that they are making progress.
Until a governing body, led by a truly open-minded and progressive individual, decides to make a proper stance and embrace technological advancements; football will be mired in controversy and ill-feeling.
Perhaps the media will not mind as it will fill columns and air time. Perhaps managers will not mind as it may deflect attention from tactical naivety.
But the fans will mind, because they will continue to fail to understand just why a sport which is the very epitome of 21st century globalisation, cannot decide whether a ball has crossed the line.
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