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Video Evidence

We asked two of our contributors to debate one of the major talking points in World Football at the moment – the Introduction of Video Evidence. Glen McMahon argues For the Introduction of Video Evidence, while Podcaster Alan Temple argues Against the Introduction of Video Evidence.

FORGlen McMahon

Football is the one truly global sport. Its growth in popularity over the years has been astronomical. Literally millions of pounds are won and lost on the pitch over 90 minutes. So why is it that key decisions which can have a major impact on these results are left to the inconsistencies of human error, when there is perfectly acceptable and reliable technology available?

We have seen the benefits that technology has provided to other sports, such as tennis, rugby, and cricket, yet the greatest sport of them all is lagging behind, like a stubborn old dinosaur, stuck in its ways.

This season UEFA decided to trial an additional two referee’s assistants positioned behind either goal line in the Europa League. Does anybody really know why? We now have six match officials, but the same problem remains: people make mistakes. Would it not have been far more beneficial to trial the use of video technology in this season’s competition, giving everyone involved a chance to get to grips with it and see whether or not it can be integrated smoothly into the game we love. One question that would need to be addressed would be what exactly we would use the technology for and what would be left solely to the match officials. I think the best option would be to start with the straight-forward goal line video, settling all those ‘was it over the line or not’ situations, and ensuring that the now infamous ‘Watford goal that never was’ is never repeated. Once that is settled in and becomes part of the game, it would be time to begin to use the technology to assist officials in penalty decisions and possibly even offsides.

I for one, have had enough of post match debates centred on referees and their competency. We should be talking about the quality of the players and the football, not the officiating. With video technology, the number of mistakes made by referees would be reduced drastically, leaving Ewan and Roughie to find something else to talk about!

The recent decision to trial two additional match officials in the Europa League has been roundly criticised by club managers, including both Tony Mowbray and David Moyes. However, many high profile managers have spoken out on the need to introduce video technology to top flight football, as a matter of urgency. I believe that if there was a poll conducted amongst every top flight manager in Europe, the results would be overwhelmingly in favour of the technology being used.

Another reason for video technology to be used is that it could possibly ease the pressures of the current referee recruitment crisis in this country. There simply aren’t enough young referees coming through to replace the older ones that are forced to retire. When you see the criticism and immense pressure that today’s refs are under, it is hardly surprising. If young refs knew that if they made it to the top tier of British football then they would be supported by video technology on all the major decisions, then it would obviously reduce the pressure associated with refereeing and there could well be an increase in young guys picking up the whistle.

Those that are against video evidence generally have three primary reasons for believing that it would have an adverse effect on our game. The first one is: “It would take too long, and would disrupt the flow of the game”. No it wouldn’t. Think about the stoppages already present in a game of football for injuries, goal celebrations and the like. Consulting a video referee through an earpiece would take only a matter of seconds, as we have seen in rugby. Surely it is worth waiting a few seconds to get the right decision, rather than quickly continuing the game with the completely wrong one?

Another argument used against video evidence is the old cliché – “Football has lasted this long the way it is, so why change it now?” Well, football is constantly changing and always has been. Although it comes pretty close at times, football is not perfect and so we must always look for ways to improve it, otherwise it may well stagnate.

The video evidence naysayers also point to the considerable cost of introducing the technology into the game. It would clearly cost a fair sum to successfully implement the new technology, but I think the cost of not doing it far outweighs the initial financial outlay. As I mentioned earlier, football clubs stand to lose millions of pounds on the bounce of a ball, the swing of a player’s foot, or the blow of a referee’s whistle (or the lack of a blow, as the case may be). Now it is easy to accept the bounce of a ball, or a piece of inspiration from a star striker in deciding a match, because this is what football is all about, but its not that easy to accept when your team loses out due to a dodgy decision, and that’s why video evidence NEEDS to come in. The sooner the better.

AGAINSTAlan Temple

The little green ball looks to have crossed the line. But let’s check with hawk-eye. Yes? It’s out. Advantage Federer. How very clever. How very correct. There’s a scramble after the scrum, number 11 dives for the line. Did he get the ball down? Let’s wait 30 seconds. Try. How very clever. How very correct.

More to the point: how absolutely devoid of any passion, controversy or potential human error – just three of the things that make football the greatest sport in the world.

There has been an ever increasing band of advocates for technology to be used in football in the last 10 years or so. This emanates from a few high profile incidences where (especially goal line) technology would have cleared up any controversy. Pedro Mendes’ ‘goal’ at Old Trafford is of course the one everybody harps on about, which is ridiculous as there was no need for goal line technology there, it was simply one of those incredible acts of incompetence from an official. As with most controversies like that in our game, it that can be prevented by a better standard of officiating: a human solution rather than a robotic one.
Another famous case was of course Luis Garcia’s ‘goal’ against Chelsea which saw the Anfield club on the way to the Champions League final. This is another equally ridiculous scenario for technology as there are still those who cannot agree whether or not it was a goal. So in that game we would have seen the game stopped for however long and still people would not find a unanimous answer. No, much better to have a human make the decision.

I am delighted a ‘football man’ like UEFA President Michel Platini has seen fit to find solutions to issues such as the ball crossing the goal line, but it is even more pleasing that he has ordained that these solutions should remain in the spirit of the game. A game where human beings make the decisions and the flow of the game should not be ceased unless there is an injury or another unavoidable delay.

People will argue those 30 seconds to ascertain whether a goal has been scored are a worthwhile delay, but in stopping the game to check the replay who knows what may have been ruined. A swift counter attack? The attacking team might swing the ball in again and score a goal of which there is no doubt. No, it is much better to allow an additional official behind the goal to make the decision, and then allow the game to carry on.

If the game isn’t stopped, as some have suggested, but continues until the ball goes out of play, then a replay is checked, what happens if the other team scores on the break before the ball goes out of play? Is their goal chalked off when it turns out the other team actually scored a minute earlier?

Do you see the plethora of issues video technology could cause? And that scenario is merely goal line technology. A whole other can of worms could be opened.

Let’s say goal line technology is introduced and completely eradicates erroneous decisions with regards to the ball crossing the line. It is a wonderful success and is hailed as the saviour modern football. How long before every manager and pundit starts saying: “Well, we haven’t lost any points this season to wrong goal line decisions, but I’ve lost 12 to players diving to win penalties or free kicks!” or “We haven’t lost any points this season to wrong goal line decisions, but they scored from a corner that was actually a goal kick!”

Before long there will be an inevitable clamour for more technology to ensure the pesky fallibility of human beings doesn’t get in the way of a football match, and then we will see a real stop-start sport where every decision made is scrutinised from above. It may seem far fetched, but anyone who believes goal line technology would be the end of the revolution is living in cloud-cuckoo-land.
Michel Platini has done the right thing by introducing the extra official behind each goal. It allows an extra pair of eyes in the area where most game-breaking incidents occur and still retains the instantaneous nature of decision-making. Most of all it means the game will stay the same throughout the different levels of football.

When we have extra officials trained, this new system can be implemented all the way down to the Highland League. Another reason why video technology is unworkable in football is because it would make top-level football effectively a different sport from the lower leagues. It would basically be football’s governing bodies saying: “It’s okay to have dreadful decisions in lower league games. Who really cares about them? Just make sure the Champions League is okay.” That is a disgraceful attitude.

If implemented all over, this new system will ensure smaller leagues in smaller countries will also see (bar a couple of natural human errors I’m sure) the eradication of poor officiating, rather than the one rule for the rich, another for the poor attitude which has blighted football for too long.

To come full circle: it is the potential for the odd human error and the subjective analysis of decisions made by the man in black that helps make football the game it is. Do we really want to lose what that brings to the sport? How many times have you mulled over your pints in the pub talking about the referee’s performance? How many times have you found the atmosphere suddenly becomes fantastic because your lot feel aggrieved?

These are things that make football what it is, and apart from the odd extra official we shouldn’t change a damn thing.

Do you agree with Glen’s comments backing up the introduction of Video evidence into the game or do you support Alan’s comments on why Video evidence should not be introduced?

First Published in Issue 1.8 of The 12th Man Scottish Football fanzine

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