The Call for Video Refereeing

Sports have evolved over time. They’ve morphed from local clubs into global obsessions. Whether we like it or not, they’ve become businesses involving 20-something millionaires, multi-million dollar sponsorships, foreign investors, Middle-Eastern Consortiums and lucrative TV deals. The results of these games (among other things) now have increasingly high monetary consequences, which places more importance on the results than ever before.

In addition, players have become bigger, faster, stronger and more athletic. Most leagues realize this. To this end, officiating has evolved with their respective sports. Instant-replay technology is now used in virtually all the major sports around the world. The NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL use it to varying degrees, but with great success. Cricket, rugby and tennis have also enjoyed the benefits of using technology to verify or challenge a call.

It’s long overdue for soccer. FIFA, UEFA, Sepp Blatter, Michel Platini and whoever else needs to come to terms with the fact that the sport is changing. Therefore, the officiating must change as well. The sooner, the better.

Perhaps the biggest argument, and the main fear of those against video-referees is that it will interrupt the flow of the game. Here’s something a lot of these people don’t seem to realize: we’re with you on this. Nobody wants to see Sir Alex Ferguson reach into his sock, pull out a red challenge flag and throw it onto the field after a throw-in doesn’t go his way. We don’t want Arsene Wenger to be able to call for a replay because he “did not see zee incident” (and how many times have we heard that?). It needs to be kept sensible. To this end we can’t have stoppages of play to review a throw-in, a dive, or even offsides (I have other ideas for divers). Stoppages of that sort would most certainly disrupt the ‘flow’ everybody speaks so highly of. Using technology to aid with these calls may be possible in the future, but let’s not get carried away just yet.

However at the very least, disputes over whether the ball crosses the goal-line should be settled immediately. Over the past few seasons we’ve seen how referees and linesmen are not able to correctly make this call on a consistent basis. In fact, it is physically impossible for a linesman to spot the ball through a heap of players, and then correctly judge if it inches over the line. The moving players and the goalposts provide too much obstruction and the speed of play doesn’t make it any easier. If it does creep over the line, the offensive team runs to appeal to the ref, while the keeper smoothers it onto right side of the line, or the ball is cleared into row Z. This hardly helps matters.

Here’s a prime example:

It’s for these reasons that such a call is impossible to get right consistently. And in a sport like soccer, where goals don’t come as easy as points do in other sports, doesn’t it make sense to make sure the right call is made? That is, one goal is probably going to be more important than one basket in basketball, or one point in tennis. Scoring more goals than the other team is the whole point, after all. Shouldn’t we be absolutely positive about their validity, or lack thereof? Not only do goals change the outcome of the game (obviously), they change the strategies of both teams from that point on. We hear the commentators say it all the time, and it’s one of the most used soccer clichés: “Goals change games”. Well, it’s true. Something so important in a sport should not be left up to chance in this day and age, especially when it can be verified with such ease.

We don’t need computer chips in the balls, or computer sensors in the posts (like some people suggest). That’s far too complicated. We already have the cameras, and they are already in the right places more or less. We’ve seen that these cameras can provide conclusive evidence over whether or not a ball crossed the line. Perhaps someone could experiment with different angles and the number of cameras to come up with standardized specifications for leagues to use.

After the referee signals a goal, it should be verified by the fourth official (he will be happy to have something to do) while the players are returning to their positions. It is important to note that this will not result in a stoppage of play, nor will it take up extra time, as the vast majority of goals scored will quite clearly cross the line. If the evidence is inconclusive, the ruling on the pitch stands. Simple. The video must provide conclusive evidence for a call to be overruled. This is significant because it leaves the power with the referee. After all, this technology is aimed at helping, not undermining, their judgment of the game.

I have a feeling that most fans will agree with me so far, but this is where those that disagree will have a problem. If a goal is not called, but the officials are unsure, or there is a dispute on the field, it must be referred to the fourth official. This will result in a short stoppage of play. The power still lies with the referee on the field, as he must be the one to call for a review. Again, we’ve seen how conclusive these replays can be. At most, we only need 2 or 3 views to make up our minds. How long does this take? Less than a minute. You hear a lot of pundits and commentators say “We’ve looked at it 50 times in slow-motion but we still can’t make a decision, so how can we expect video-replays to work?” Again, if the footage is inconclusive than the original call stands. I won’t go as far as recommending a time limit on reviews, but I don’t believe that will be too much of an issue anyway.

If you still disagree, than maybe reliving this will help change your mind:

In my opinion, the short disruption of the game would be worth it. This is a possibility of a goal we’re talking about, not a throw-in. Goals change games, remember? The ruling on the field has the potential to change the way both teams approach the game, and the final outcome. Why would you not want to be sure of a goal’s validity? Imagine if you’re team gets robbed of a vital goal that should have stood. It could potentially affect your team’s monetary status (is your team relegated or do they stay up?) and position in the league. I bet you’d be pretty angry. However, I doubt you’d be angry for much longer if your team was awarded that goal after 30 seconds of review. The review period also has the potential to be exciting for the fans. Why not put it up on the big screen so both fans and players can understand the call? This way they can’t hurl abuse at the referee for the rest of the game, which would place doubt in his mind, and in turn, contribute to more questionable calls.

Those who advocate technology want to help the referees, not hurt them. The last thing we want is for referees to lose the players’ respect (if that hasn’t already happened). If technology is implemented in the ways I’ve described, this won’t be a problem. Although all goals will be reviewed automatically, it’s up to the referee’s discretion to call for a replay after a disputed passage of play. It is up to the officials on the field to admit they need help with the call. If they are sure of what they saw, then play will continue. However, if there is a shadow of doubt, they should call for an instant-replay. And I don’t see why they wouldn’t. Their job is to make the correct calls, and technology will only help them do that.

Although I can see instant-replay being used in other parts of the game, we must not change too much at once. I think the argument for goal-line replays provide the strongest reasoning for the introduction of technology into soccer and would appreciate comments of those who think otherwise.

For more on this section, read the archives of our Help Football section, where we’ve covered various viewpoints on this subject over the last few years.

Chris also writes at The Bleacher Bums.

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  1. BD Condell 11 June, 2009
  2. Christopher Maycock 11 June, 2009
  3. Christopher Maycock 11 June, 2009
  4. grego 21 June, 2010