I’m sure it never used to be like this. Seemingly every other week there’s a controversy over whether or not a football has crossed the line. Goal or no goal? The clamour for goal-line technology is growing all the time.
Even Sepp Blatter, the last great bastion against the idea, has now changed his mind in the wake of the latest incident in Monday’s match between England and Ukraine. Although, cynics might say, that’s only because England were the team to benefit this time.
Luckily for the credibility of the European Championship, Marko Devic's equalising 'goal', that never was, didn’t directly affect the outcome of Group D. Ukraine needed to win, but who knows what might have happened had that perfectly legitimate equaliser been allowed?
Maybe with the momentum gained in front of a partisan home crowd, Ukraine might have gone on to win the game, and qualify for the quarter finals. We’ll never know, because the officials made a mistake.
"Hawkeye especially is a very expensive system. In cricket it’s guaranteed it will be used many times in every match, maybe 10 or 20 times a day, with disputed LBW decisions. With football these systems will sit idle week after week"
So the move towards goal-line technology moves inexorably forward. Two systems are currently under test, and FIFA’s lawmakers are due to make a decision early next month. But will technology provide the perfect answer everybody is looking for? I’m not so sure.
There are essentially two ways to measure whether or not a football has crossed the line, reflected in the two systems under test.
The first is to plant a sensor inside the football, which is the basis behind the joint German/Danish GoalRef system. The second is to track the ball using cameras, familiar to cricket fans as Hawkeye. A modified version of Hawkeye, developed in the UK, is the second system being assessed.
GoalRef has been tested at two Danish SuperLiga matches, Hawkeye was trialled at an English non-league game then, with more publicity, at England’s friendly against Belgium on the 2nd June.
In none of those four matches was there a goal-line incident where technology was needed. Which is my first problem. Goal-line incidents seem to be happening all the time, but they are actually extremely rare given the number of games that are played.
Hawkeye especially is a very expensive system.
In cricket it’s guaranteed it will be used many times in every match, maybe 10 or 20 times a day, with disputed LBW decisions. With football these systems will sit idle week after week, even season after season, waiting for a disputed goal that might take years to come at a specific end of a specific stadium.
So even with all the money washing round the game, it will only be economically viable to use technology at the top level.
But that’s not my main problem. That comes with reliability. There is an assumption that technology will be 100% reliable but, even speaking from a layman’s point of view, I see potential problems with both systems.
GoalRef relies on a sensor, in this case a microchip, inside the ball. To give a perfect reading that sensor would have to be dead centre in the middle of an air filled football.
How is it possible to hold it in place with sufficient strength? Can you dangle a microchip inside a hollow football that’s being smashed around for 90 minutes by 22 professional footballers, and be 100% certain it will stay in the same place?
Hawkeye relies on a series of cameras filming the ball. That’s fine in cricket with a clear line of sight. But a football on the goal-line could easily be obscured by players. Most of the time there’ll be a clear view for the cameras, but will it be 100% of the time?
After the Ukraine incident UEFA Head of Referees Pierluigi Collina went public backing his officials, saying 95.7% of their decisions so far in this tournament have been correct.
Until GoalRef or Hawkeye can be proven to consistently beat that figure, I would be very cautious about rolling them out, or one day we’ll see goal-line technology make a mistake just as bad as Ukraine’s disallowed goal.
Then where do we go?
To read Joanna Tilley's argument FOR goal-line technology click here.
Stuart Silvers is a presenter and producer at Al Jazeera English.
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