The Bundesliga is riding on the crest of a wave at the moment. Both of last season’s Champions League finalists ply their trade in the league, attendances are at record numbers, and the league is the envy of many fans thanks to their relatively low ticket prices and pioneering initiatives, such as safe standing.
The fact that the league is held up as a beacon of a progressive approach to modern football makes the fact that the clubs have just voted against the introduction of goal-line technology all the more confounding.
Earlier in the season, Hoffenheim fell victim to a “ghost goal” scored by Stefan Kiessling of Bayer Leverkusen, after his header squirmed through a gap in the side netting and fooled referee Felix Brych. This incident led to the vote that saw half of Bundesliga teams—and all but three teams in Bundesliga 2—vote against bringing in the technology.
With many of those in the game, as well as fans, apparently now seeing such technology as a no-brainer, there is confusion as to why one of the most forward-looking leagues in the world would be reluctant to introduce it.
There are, of course, the usual protestations to consider—such as the effect on the ebb and flow of the game and the fact that one technological assist could open the floodgates to more. However, the decision had as much—if not more—of its basis in the role that human error plays in making the beautiful game what it is.
Take the Hoffenheim game for example. With the ghost goal, it invited controversy, a sense of injustice for the home fans, and the joy of a scarcely deserved win for the Leverkusen following, which—as any fan will tell you—is often the most enjoyable way to win.
Looking further back, some of the most famous talking points in football history—such as Geoff Hurst’s second goal in the 1966 World Cup Final—would have been nullified had such ambiguity eliminating technology been involved.
Some would argue that this is only fair. However, football plays a complex sociocultural role in the lives of those who follow it. It is indelibly tied to a sense of community, of belonging and of purpose. If you start automating decisions, you start removing talking points—and those decisions that are most easily automated are also those that provide the most contentious moments of a match.
It’s the same reason that there’s been such limited action—relatively speaking—to combat diving, which brings the sport into disrepute in just about every match. It’s why there’s such a dragging of heels when it comes to altering the English FA’s antiquated rules about retrospective action. Essentially, every football fan thrives on the game's injustices just as they do the moments of magic, if not more.
While allowing technology a greater role in the sport would help eliminate injustices, it would have the potential to diminish the magic. One needs only to look at the lengthy fallout of Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification from the Australian Grand Prix last month to see the potential for a dogmatic application of the rules to distract from the sport itself.
In the case of goal-line technology—despite the Bundesliga setback—it does seem a matter of “when” rather than “if” it is introduced wholesale to football. However, the concerns about setting a precedent around introducing technology to the sport are warranted; while common sense may dictate that more technology means a more fairness, fans may underestimate just how much they enjoy the inequalities and injustices.