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Sunday, June 27, 2010

FIFA and goal-line technology

FIFA and video technology - no science, only humans... and human error

The Round of 16 has produced three great matches so far, and one highly controversial moment.  England v Germany was a fabulous match, end to end, and far more open than many might have expected, given the history of penalties between the sides.  In the end, Germany won handsomely, and for good reason - they were excellent, and deserved the win and the margin of victory.

Sadly, however, the game will be debated for an amazing incident only moments after England had pulled the score back to 2-1.  Virtually straight from the kick-off, a move down the England right resulted in a Frank Lampard shot which struck the bar, bounced down and then back out of the German goal.  The picture below tells you all you need to know about the goal.

So clearly, England should have been level at 2-2.  The linesman however ruled that the ball had not crossed the line and the score remained 2-1.  In the second half, Germany were able to sit deep and counter-attack England, who had already been exposed defensively in the first half, and the result was a 4-1 win.

Let me first say that I don't believe the decision affected the eventual outcome of the match.  Granted, it would certainly have changed the tempo of the match, and a 2-2 scoreline at half-time would have made for a different strategy in the second half.  However, Germany were deservedly 2-0 up, and it might have been three or four.  A 2-2 scoreline would have flattered England massively - "papering over the cracks" is how John Barnes correctly described it.  Germany's failure to score more was however their fault, England's was an official's decision.

In the aftermath, some of England's football pundits bemoaned the goal but acknowledged that they were outplayed by Germany.  Others have blamed the defeat on the decision - this is nothing new.  Here in SA, the 'blame-game' is a national past-time because we feel that our teams are never beaten by better sides either - it's always someone else's fault.  Watching English news reactions to the game, it seems they are world-champions at this particular sport.  Some of the football pundits are even blaming Germany's goalkeeper for not giving them the goal, as if any keeper in the world would do this.  This kind of stupid reporting does no one any favours.  Even Fabio Capello stupidly claimed that five officials missed it - in reality, it was one, and he erred.  As humans do...

Aside from the post-mortems, the relevant question in this affair is whether goal-line technology should be used.  And this is not a new issue, but it might help you to learn what FIFA's position is.

Technology and video review:  FIFA's position on science

In March this year, an organization called the IFAB (International Football Association Board) met to discuss goal-line technology.  IFAB is made up of representatives from FIFA and the football associations of England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.  Presentations were heard from two companies - Hawkeye and Cairos Technologies.  Hawkeye you know - they do line calls for tennis and third-umpire decisions for cricket, while Cairos insert microchips into the ball to signal whether a goal is scored.

A vote was held, and the use of technology was defeated, 6-2.  FIFA used their four votes to vote against it, with one vote each from Wales and Northern Ireland contributing to what FIFA announced after the meeting as the "end to the potential use of technology within football" (Jerome Valcke, FIFA's General Secretary).

Quite how this body, with such peculiar voting power, rules on this matter, is difficult to say.  IFAB was formed in 1886, 18 years before FIFA, and consisted of the four British associations who had two votes each.  FIFA joined in 1913, and received a block of four votes with the original associations of British football retaining one vote each.

FIFA has since grown to more than 200 national federations, but the body controlling the laws still comprises a 50% block from the original British associations, and four from FIFA.  Quite how FIFA decides to make use of its four votes is another question mark.  But as it stands, almost 200 member federations have no direct say in the rules of the game (ironically, England are one of the nations who voted "For" in the May vote) - they are represented rather narrowly, and it would be interesting to see how a vote put to all federations would go.

It should also be noted that FIFA have decided to introduce goal-line officials who will be stationed in and around the penalty area.  They would certainly have ruled correctly today, but their introduction is symptomatic of FIFA's desire to 'go-human'.

So why the resistance to technology?

About two weeks ago, Sepp Blatter was quoted as saying that the introduction of technology into football would detract from the fervour of the sport. He said "Then the science is coming in the game, no discussions, we don't want that. We want to have these emotions, and then a little bit more than emotions, passion".  Sepp and FIFA want human error, and so human error they get!

Blatter has also cited other reasons including:  the game's universality, fans who love debating incidents, the cost and fear of extended use of technology, and interference with the flow of the game.

All of these are reasonable, but not insurmountable.  Time is not an issue for goal-line decisions.  Today, the replay of Lampard's shot was shown within 20 seconds, much quicker than many celebrations take to complete.

Cost too can be offset through sponsorship - in tennis, Rolex have taken the challenge system on as a sponsorship, and it has worked very effectively as a means to heighten tension there.  The same could happen for soccer (and let's be honest, FIFA would find a sponsor and commercialize this to within an inch of its life).

Emotion & Passion: Is it beneficial if it's negative?

The remaining resistance then comes from FIFA's insistence that human error and debate drive passion and emotion.  This is certainly supported by their attitude to the disgraceful play-acting and cheating where players are diving and getting other players sent off without any sanction after matches. 

The question I would ask in response to this whether correct decisions would really kill the emotion?  Right now, all I'm seeing are complaints and excuses, and sadly, it detracts  from a brilliant game. If such negative emotions are what FIFA want, then fine, let's keep making mistakes.  But surely had the game gone 2-2, the second half would have been no less exciting.

England would have come out with positive intent, Germany would have resumed their approach, which up to that point had produced exciting, flowing football.  The result may have been 3-2, it may have been 4-2, it may have gone to extra-time and penalties.  But it most definitely would not have lacked emotion or passion.  The only "passion" that has been added by today's controversy is anger, and that can't be good for the sport, surely?  Or is this football's equivalent of "There's no such thing as bad publicity?" As always, your opinions welcome.

To me, it's a no-brainer.  Then again, I'm "science" and clearly, Sepp and FIFA don't care much for science.  They'd rather keep technology and expertise out of the game, so that "everyone watching from their couches can be an expert too".  I wonder if Blatter realises that implicit in his argument is the admission that he is a "non-expert" himself.  What is the polar opposite of "expert"?  If you are an England fan, you can write to FIFA and let them know...



Andy K said...

The ineptitude of various sports' governing bodies knows no bounds eh? At least rugby union and league, tennis and cricket are sensible. Given how stupid the guys at the IOC are, it's amazing they have cameras at the athletics...

Mexico vs Argentine highlighted another good reason for something similar in soccer. Farcical.

Anyway, England are out now, so I can look forward to watching some decent footy without the bizarre tribal support that's obliged in the World Cup when your tems's still in it!

Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

A chip would draw complaints that it affects the flight of the ball, regardless of anything done to show otherwise. I mean. the Jubalani ball was not created by any pikers, I'm sure it was tested and tested to make sure it worked as they thought it should work.

Players will always complain about something that they think affects their ability to play well.

I don't see how Hawkeye could visualize the ball over the line if there were a numbers of body parts in the way. That being said, I think the Fourth official could be used for blatant misses and anything close would be chalked up to the human element.

In a way, the Germans will feel that it took 44 years for justice to be served. They would have felt better if it was in the final.

ramachandran said...

It is inexplicable when you have cameras positioned all over the ground and on top on the playing field reporting not only goals which have been disallowed but also player skirmishes, that FIFA is choosing to be blind. While cricket and tennis have embraced referral system with some success, i don't see any reason why football can't have such a system. All those arguments about interfering with free flowing nature of the game does not hold much water since the game is anyways interrupted by player diving etc.

paul said...

Seems to me that instant replays etc would make it harder to fix matches through crooked officiating, collect bribes, etc. That seems to me to be the most likely reason for this ridiculous posture...

Ian said...

The game between Argentina and Mexico also clearly demonstrated why goal-line technology must be implemented. [http://www.worldcupblog.org/world-cup-2010/carlos-tevez-offside-goal-vs-mexico.html]
What is even more mind-boggling is that the whole stadium [officials, teams, spectators] saw the incident replayed on the stadium big-screens!

Maybe there is some science involved here because as one blog states "Lampard’s goal seemed to be over the line by about the same distance that Tevez was offside. Maybe the referees just need recalibrating by a yard or so?"

If goal-line technology had been introduced for the qualifying campaigns,we would have been spared the petulent behaviour of the French team [management and players], and enjoyed the presence of a team who deserved to be here. Secondly, we would have witnessed much tighter and suspenseful England/Germany and Argentina/Mexico games. Conclusion - science/technology would have had a dramatic, positive effect on the enjoyment of the game.

I concur with other soccer blogs: declare June 27th, 2010 to be the official-World-cup-we-need-video-replay-day. Maybe FIFA surprise us and we get goal-line technology for the semi's. However, I suspect that's a fools hope!

Ralph said...

The problem with soccer, which they've admirably dealt with over the last couple of decades, is respect for the referee. Introducing technology in the professional arena might undo all this work and the Sunday leagues would again be reduced to a sickening display of referee abuse. I'd love to see technology used, but you'd have to introduce it with heightened powers for the ref - it should be his choice to refer to it, and there should be more rugby style censures introduced with it - such as 10 minute sin-bins, 10 yard advances, post match citing etc.

Ironic that England got what they voted for!

Ian said...

Here's an interesting study:

"Errors in judging “offside” in association football: Test of the optical error versus the perceptual flash-lag hypothesis"
J Sport Sci 24(5): 521-528, 2006.

An overall offside error rate for the FIFA 2002 World Cup of 26.2%. The highest error rates occured in the first 15 min of either half [38.5% 1st half, 29.7% 2nd half]. Of these errors 4.3% resulted in loss of scoring opportunity, legal goals disallowed, and illegal goals allowed. Yikes! And yet the players are expected to produced performances with far smaller margins of error. Cleary Marcellus in Shakespeares' Hamlet was right; something's rotten in FIFA!

The really interesting part of this study was that they found evidence for the perceptual flash-lag effect [ball perceived as further ahead of it's actual position], which might explain the controversial decision in the Argentina/Mexico game.

It would be interesting to have FIFA again provide video footage for 2010 and the study redone, to see if the training provided to counter this perceptual effect was of any use. If not...science/technology might be required to spoil the beautiful game!

Ian said...

I incorrectly suggested that the Argentina/Mexico incident could have been because of the flash-lag effect. It's more likely the optical explanation. The question still remains; has all the training to correct for optical and flash-lag effects really reduced the error rates in offside [and other decisions] in WC tournaments?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Ralph earlier.

I don't know much about football but am a keen tennis player and spectator, and I must say that I really hate what Hawkeye has brought to the game.
Not only was it implemented essentially as a crowd pleaser device (and with no mention whatsoever about error margins!), but it also takes too much power away from the umpire.

Today in tennis, we see umpires shy away from their responsibilities of actually refereeing a game and are happy to just "let Hawkeye decide".
Some of them simply don't overrule their line judges anymore and simply leave that responsibility to the players to challenge or not.

I remember a conversation between a player and the umpire about a ball which was clearly long (as anyone in the crowd could see) but not called by the line judge. The player telling the umpire the ball was long and waiting for an overrule that never came. The umpire simply asking back whether the player wanted to challenge.
What would have happened if the player had run out of challenges? Would it have been OK to leave it as it is?

This happens just after a few years of activity. What will it be in 10 years time?

All this to say that people need to be careful what they wish for. Technology brought in such an environment not only de-humanizes it but also de-responsibilize (if that's even a word!) the officials, and that can never be a good thing.

Ian said...

I wonder if it isn't a bit late to bemoan the intrusion of technology into sport? Science and technology dominate the preparation of players and the design of equipment. Margins of error and performance demands have changed dramatically, and in my view the result of science and technology. How then can the officiating aspect of a sport not be affected by this trend? If the athletes are held to account when it comes to what's expected of them, how can the officials not be held to account? If it is not humanely possible to match up the athlete performance levels with the required officiating levels, then in my opinion technology should be judiciously used to make up this deficit.

Anonymous said...

Blatter wants passion and emotion...but the poor officials nearly had a riot on the pitch!

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi all

Thanks for the feedback. i agree with most of your views. Just to respond to a few:

To Ralph and Anonymous:

I hear your points on the "intrusion" of technology and the fact that it would "disempower" officials.

The problem I have with this is at the moment, it is showing up their errors and heaping more pressure on them. As Ian has pointed out, the technology is there and so the world will see the event over and over, which means errors like those of yesterday's matches are amplified many times over. The officials are thus faced with a situation where the technology has already impacted on them. This impact is entirely negative, why not use it to enable them to perform better, even if it means they shy away from committing to difficult calls. It really doesn't happen too often, and in a sense, their responsibility has been changed, in a way that I think is better.

Using it more may well "de-responsiblize" them (nice word!), I don't necessarily see the problem with this, if the technology is there to SUPPORT them and make them better.

As someone else has pointed out, there is so much at stake that referees are now faced with threats, safety issues (recall the UEFA Champions League a few years ago where a referee received death threats) and simply too much negative emotion. And for football, a ref cannot have too much responsibility taken away from him anyway - the game is too quick and flowing for that. It's just very specific calls where one can refer to technology, get a good decision and then continue.


Gene said...

I suspect that it will take a mistaken call or two in a final, before the whole world, to embarrass FIFA officials into taking advantage of the technology available. But who knows when that will happen?

44 said...

I think an additional referee should be added to the pitch and each referee should be responsible for 1/2 the field. The ball moves too quickly for one ref to keep up with the play. I also think positioning an official on the goal line will eliminate the goal-line problems without introducing technology.

What I would really like to see is video review of games after they are played to issue cards/fines/suspensions to players for simulation. I CAN'T STAND the diving and faking of injuries that goes on in the game.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

hi 44

I second that final suggestion. I also despise what FIFA call "simulation", it's disgraceful. There are two things that should change:

1. Your idea - issue cards after the match for very clear dives. No dispute, no exceptions, just punish players.

2. Make yellow cards compulsory for any player who suggests to the referee that he give a card to another player on the field. When players dive, it's bad enough. When team-mates gather around the ref and gesture to him to give a card, it's fraud, bad sportsmanship.

I think soccer followers may be a little bemused by the strong reactions of people like yourself to this. It's now so common in football that I dare say a lot of people see nothing wrong with it. But the way that footballers carry on is totally foreign to anyone who follows rugby, where even wrong decisions are accepted without chat. Referees immediately punish bad language and dissent, no arguments. The game is characterized by respect.

Football - no such thing. And I think it's telling that FIFA have not taken a harsher view on this. Their position here is the same as for video replays - they don't care, because the controversy and cheating inspire "emotion" and "passion".


Doug K said...

This essay is interesting:


In another post, zunguzungu also points to Fifa's statement on why they don't want techno-soccer:
"one of the main objectives of FIFA is to protect the universality of the game of association football. This means that the game must be played in the same way no matter where you are in the world. If you are coaching a group of teenagers in any small town around the world, they will be playing with the same rules as the professional players they see on TV."

This is a powerful argument I think.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Doug

On the surface, that position seems OK. But using video technology doesn't change the rules - it just allows people to more accurately determine whether the rules have been followed or not.

After all, the rule is that if the whole of the ball cross the line, a goal is scored. That's the same in the Andes mountains as in the World Cup final. But, the stakes are just a little higher, and given that the World Cup final is filmed, big money event, with massive reward for success, you can implement the rule using technology.

The referee (and the players - just ask Thierry Henry) are going to be exposed by technology,unlike the teenagers anywhere in the world. Their game is clearly different, and not only because there are billions invested.

To me, it's a nonsensical argument to say the game would be played any differently if you introduce goal-line replays (and even offside reviews). To give an extreme illustration, consider where is the line between changing the game?

For example, does playing with the Jabulani ball not change the game, because last I checked the streets of South African townships, they were playing with tennis balls,plastic balls,old leather, sometimes even rags rolled up. This is arguably a bigger difference. So too are boots. The playing surface.

Having TV replays to aid officials in no way changes the rules of the game.


Gene said...

Pro baseball, at least the American version, is the only place you can get thrown out for complaining about, a referee's decision about another player, and only with one kind of play - balls and strikes. In American football, basketball around the world, tennis, and other team sports I'm not thinking of, suggesting to a ref that a foul be called on another player is SOP. I don't see why asking for a yellow card should be any different.

American basketball added a third ref and it's done a lot for the game. Soccer (football) should consider at least another one too.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

To Gene:

Because calling for a foul is totally different from calling for a yellow or red card. As the Ivory Coast ably demonstrated, if you try hard enough, you can have opposition player sent off, so gullible are referees to the player's antics.

If a player is barged, held, tripped, it's only natural for a player to appeal to the ref for the free-kick/penalty. I have no problem with this.

What I have a very big problem with is when a free-kick is given and the non-fouled player's team-mates run up to the ref (often from 20m away) and gesture to show a card. I think it's deplorable.

And I've watched a bit of basketball and NFL, I've never seen that kind of behaviour.


Gene said...

Actually, in American pro football and basketball, calling for a player to be given a flagrant penalty or techical foul, including ones that require a player to be thrown out does occur. It just happens less in sight, i.e., over by the sidelines, and most often comes from the coach, sometimes quite vehemently. In U.S. baseball, it's done out in the open when the manager claims that a pitcher is handling the ball illegally, throwing an illegal pitch (e.g., spitter) or intentionally throwing at players.

Maybe, in egregious circumstances, reversing who gets the ball or kick might cool it out quickly. I do think another referee or two would go a long way to alleviate many problems. Can you imagine pro football using only one official?

Farid said...

love the timing of this post
love the discussion, truly enjoyable opinions and a good back and forth

don't want to rehash anything since all sides of the argument have been brought up, but just a note:
I watched only the first half of the portugal/spain game and the ref seemed to be ridiculing players for diving. It was phenomenal; the game had flow, it was exciting and I finally didn't feel ashamed of the officiating. (not to mention the look on Ronaldo's face the second and third time he was "fouled" was priceless). It was a glimpse into what football could be.

As for technology, I agree with supporters for all reasons stated. One thing that INFURIATES me is the punishment of the referees who made huge mistakes. here is the article:


If you want to ensure the lowest probability of error in THIS particular tournament, you send home the least experienced refs since chance of error is governed more by experience than previous mistakes.
This is especially relevant in the case of Lannoy, or the referees who botch offside calls.
This is just a farcical PR campaign now.

Ian said...

Reading through this should convince most "purist" skeptics that change is inevitable. The effects of wrong decisions on the goal line are devasting for all involved.


leagz said...

excellent article as usual, but slightly inconsistent IMHO. if emotion/passion were a good reason to keep the chip/goal line technology out, so that it becomes a discussion piece amongst fans, then that is also an argument to not allow slow-motion video replays, so the passionate discussion can only be around what the fans think they saw in real time. Of course that would be difficult or impossible to enforce. But conversely, chip balls or line technology could be introduced and used to further incense the fans' debate without the officials having to adhere to it or even know the outcome - just like video replays today. When the replays are as clear as the Lampard goal the only passionate debate is not about teams or playesr but what failures the officials are. More realistically and helpfully, the players could easily have RFID chips in their boots or socks (like runners do) so that all off-line calls can be scientifically reinforced too.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Leagz

I'm all for that. In fact, having chips in the shoes sounds like an excellent idea. An earpiece could constantly inform an official whether a player is offside or not, and if a pass is made while that audio signal exists, then offsides it is.

So I'm all for all technology. Replays, reviews, everything. The inconsistency is in FIFA's position, as near as I can tell.

Incidentally, I've been to a few matches,a and they do not show the decisions on the big screen in the stadia. They show goals and replays of near misses, but any foul play, or referee decisions such as offsides, not shown. I assume this is to prevent crowd realisation of potential errors in real-time.


Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

To Gene:

Because calling for a foul is totally different from calling for a yellow or red card. As the Ivory Coast ably demonstrated, if you try hard enough, you can have opposition player sent off, so gullible are referees to the player's antics.

If a player is barged, held, tripped, it's only natural for a player to appeal to the ref for the free-kick/penalty. I have no problem with this.

What I have a very big problem with is when a free-kick is given and the non-fouled player's team-mates run up to the ref (often from 20m away) and gesture to show a card. I think it's deplorable.

And I've watched a bit of basketball and NFL, I've never seen that kind of behaviour.