Jonny Craft discusses the immediate need for video technology in football, to make the game fairer for all involved.
Last month’s play-off saw Swansea City entertain Nottingham Forest at the Liberty Stadium in an evenly poised semi final, second leg match for a place in the £90 million final at Wembley and quite possibly a place in the promise land of the Premier League.
With the first leg finishing 0-0 there was everything to play for, but as so often happens in the big games the match was overshadowed by a dubious refereeing decision by Andre Marriner, that in monetary terms, almost £100 million in fact, is too big to ignore.
A clear handball in injury time by Swansea defender Ashley Williams from a De Vries’ cross was turned down denying Nottingham Forest a chance to level the score from the penalty spot, and take the tie into extra time. The fact the ball hit both of Williams’ arms, away from his face, in front of the linesman and the referee was no consolation as only a corner was awarded to the disbelief of the Forest players and possibly every forest fan in the ground and watching on TV.
What football needs?
In my eyes the only person in world football who does not warm to video technology is the FIFA President, Sepp Blatter. Surely listening to the masses is common sense, and introducing video technology to football would benefit the game more than it would harm it.
We don’t need special chips in footballs, or a fourth, fifth or even sixth official at games, as now seen in the champions league with referees assistants manning the goal line. We need a video referee sitting over a TV screen with the ability to review replays instantly and someone the referee can refer to when he, or she, is not one hundred percent sure on a decision.
Football on a global scale is the world’s biggest sport, and the revenue made from the game is second to none, so surely there is enough money in the coffers to bring in technology to make the referees jobs easier and ultimately, as seen in last night’s game, fairer. Yes there are people who will say this is what referees get paid for, the big decisions are part and parcel of their job, but isn’t football a team game. The referee, linesman and fourth official are also a team, and employing one more member to this team to embrace the ever changing, advancing world of technology is surely a good thing. It’s not as if it hasn’t been a success in other sports.
Tough tackling technology
Rugby League is one of the fastest sports around, and the people in power brought a video referee in to review all kinds of decisions. In each game the referee may use the video referee to check a grounding of the ball over the try line, an offside decision or an off the ball incident, and at some grounds the fans are treated to a real time showing of the video referee making his decision, allowing the fans to make up their own mind too, granted it makes no difference what they think in the grand scheme of things, but a nice touch none the less. This has been an amazing success, because everything is on show, and there is nowhere to hide.
A secondary positive effect of video technology is the increase in respect towards the referee; most players in the game refer to the referee as ‘sir’, rather than the expletives thrown at referees from football players. This is down to the fact that everything is recorded, and can be reviewed from a simple hand signal by the referee to the video referee upstairs.
New balls please
Tennis has always been at the forefront of video technology with hawk eye and now the referral system, which recently the world of cricket also adopted. Hawk-eye is a device that tracks the ball and can be referred to by the umpire if he needs to make a decision. This can also be called upon by the players participating in the match. Each player receives three referrals per set, each referral that goes against the appealing player results in the loss of that referral. If the resulting decision is in favour of the appealing player he/she keeps the referral intact. Once all three referrals have been used, the player can no longer appeal until the next set. This once again has been an overnight success, on many occasions the player indicating he wants to refer a decision to Hawk-eye is met with cheers and jeers of approval from the crowd who build up the tension before the final result is shown on the big screen.
Cricket adopted this same technique when they introduced the referral system to the international format of their game. Each team now receives three referrals per innings which they can use on all kinds of decisions. Referrals are mostly used against umpire decisions to determine the taking of a wicket, but can also be used for attempted catches and important boundaries. Once again the timing, and when the teams use these appeals is paramount, as once they are used up they are gone.
Slow the beautiful game down
One deciding factor it seems in the decision not to integrate video technology into football is how it will affect the speed of the game. We have established that Rugby League and Tennis are very fast sports, and really do benefit from video technology being able to catch important moments to make sure the right decision is given, but on the flip side, cricket must be one of the slowest forms of sport, and it has really benefitted the game, with many umpires holding their hands up and over turning their decisions once they have been reviewed by the video referee. Football referees need this outlet too, and the longer we leave it, the more heartache and arguments will ensue.
Mr Blatter take note
The technology is there for Mr Blatter to call upon; it is being used with great success in other sports. Why don’t we take the video referee from rugby league, implement hawk-eye on the goal lines and give each team 3 referrals when they feel the referee has got it wrong, and leave it up to the video referee to sort things out fairly. The match referee would be respected more by players, fans and media for referring to the technology to make the important decisions. Yes the game would slow down a fraction, but some decisions are so blatant; the football a full yard over the goal line springs to mind, even the worst video referee would make the right decision in a heartbeat. The longer decisions would benefit the good of the game, and give no fan, manager or pundit the right to argue the case should it be up there in black and white.
While we are discussing ways to improve the game, how about stopping the clock for these decisions, as seen in Rugby League, and also for when the ball goes out of play or a player is injured to ensure that a full 90 minutes is played to a buzzer, eliminating the need for ‘injury time’ and disposing of all the arguments about ‘injury time on injury time’ we hear from the managers week in, week out.
Mr Blatter’s time may be running out at FIFA, which for football may be a good thing, we need a fairer game and video technology would go a long way to fixing the world’s favourite sport.