Monday, April 5, 2010

Video official would have ruled Drogba offside.

Chelsea’s potentially title-winning victory at Old Trafford on Saturday featured a goal from Didier Drogba that should have been disallowed for a clear offside; Arsenal’s win over Wolves contained a disputable red card for visiting captain Karl Henry, with the match-winning goal coming after Wolves were reduced to 10 men.
Yet again, contentious refereeing decisions have played a major part in determining the outcome of this weekend’s most important EPL fixtures.
Let’s be clear from the outset — I am not about to embark upon one of those tiresome “all referees are rubbish” rants that invariably get trotted out by frustrated managers in the aftermath of a narrow defeat.
Considering the increased pace of the game in the last 20 years and the fierce scrutiny offered by multi-camera television crews, match officials have an exceptionally difficult job and, on the whole, they do it extremely well. But why can’t we give them some more help to make their jobs a little less difficult?
Saturday’s happenings only strengthened my conviction that introducing technology to assist the officials’ decision-making process is an absolute must.
Trials so far have been limited to goal-line decisions, giving officials the opportunity to get another angle on whether the ball has crossed the line, and that would be a good start...but only a start — it would also be easy to introduce a “video official” with responsibility for contributing to decisions on offsides, handballs, penalties and other match-changing incidents.
Unfortunately there is much opposition amongst many traditionalists to the introduction of technology to assist referees, and FIFA recently announced they do not currently intend to pursue the possibility of developing of goal-line technology.
Opponents of technology, including FIFA chief Sepp Blatter, generally trot out the same old tired arguments for retaining the status quo, all of which I believe can be easily refuted:
* “Introducing technology would undermine the authority of officials.” Absolute rubbish. Making wrong decisions undermines the authority of officials, and players would hardly think less of a referee if he conferred briefly with a video official before making his decision.
Players want right decisions, they don’t care how they get them. Would Martin Hansson, the referee who allowed France’s “Hand of Henry” goal, really have felt undermined if he’d had a quick conversation with a colleague in a replay booth before disallowing the goal? Of course not; on the contrary, his authority would be strengthened because players would be more confident that his decisions were right.
* “Occasional human error is a part of the game that fans love to talk about; we should accept that refs aren’t machines.” That’s true, human error is a part of the game and referees aren’t immune from making mistakes — but that’s even more reason to accept that they would benefit from receiving help!
Match officials are there to make decisions that can significantly affect the outcome of games and championships; that is the entire purpose of their existence within the sport.
So wouldn’t it be desirable to allow them to make as many correct decisions as possible? If implemented properly, the use of technology could reduce the number of wrong decisions that are made — that could only be a good thing.
And in any case, no technology-enhanced system would be perfect, so there’d still be plenty of opportunity for lovers of controversy to debate officiating mistakes.
* “Constantly referring decisions to a video booth would disrupt the flow of the game.” Not necessarily. How long would it have taken for a video official to conclude that Drogba’s goal on Saturday was offside?
No more than ten seconds, during which time the Chelsea players had barely started their celebrations, so there would have been no disruption at all.
Of course, not every incident would be as clear cut and many would require two or three angles before an informed decision could be made, but it would be easy to introduce a time limit for video officials: if they can’t reach a conclusion within 30 seconds, for example, the judgment of the on-pitch referee would stand.
* “Technology would be too expensive to introduce at all levels of the game.” So what? Does it really matter that weekend teenage kickabouts wouldn’t have a video official available to review contentious decisions?
FIFA have expressed concern that the universality of football should prevail, with international superstars playing under exactly the same conditions as amateur hackers; that’s a noble enough sentiment, but it’s not as though the use of technology at the higher levels would mean changing the rule book; the laws of the game would be the same, the only difference being that top pros would have more chance of getting correct decisions from their referees...which surely is already the case.
If you really want equality, why not appoint the top refs to officiate in park matches and give international fixtures to adolescent trainees?
In my opinion (as you may have guessed by now), introducing technology to assist referees would be hugely beneficial if it was done properly. It comes down to this: do we want referees to make as many correct decisions as possible? Yes. Would video replays help referees make more correct decisions? Yes. Then let’s do it.
Sadly, the autocratic and stubborn Blatter seems to have made up his mind, so the introduction of technology is unlikely to happen anytime soon — which means our post-match analyses will continue to be permeated by dour discussions about decisions that should or shouldn’t have been made.
And (perhaps rather hypocritically as that’s exactly the kind of article I’ve just written) wouldn’t it be great if we could finally see the back of those interminable debates and focus on the football?

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