Whether you’re going to watch a live game or simply seeing the events unfold through a television screen, technology is omnipotent.
Whether you’re checking the team news on Twitter a minute after it’s released or seeing replays of an incident you would have otherwise missed, there is nothing more attentive or dynamic than technology’s ability to never miss a beat. I suppose it is the reason why football is a game of opinions – everyone can see everything, hence everyone is available for comment. So with the sheer multitude of footage available, it does beg the question as to why the person who controls the game does not have access to a single frame of it.
One can compile a considered case for the use of video technology or referrals in football primarily from the success of other implementations. For instance, the perennially called-for goal-line technology is deserving of all credit it receives. In all fairness, it was a must; so fast-paced were the scrambles which led to calls for a hawkeye-like system, it was nigh-on impossible to expect officials to make decisions regarding goals. Nowadays, however, a goal is a goal – no matter how sure the players or officials are of what they have seen, if the cameras are calling the shots then you can bet your bottom dollar that they’re correct.
But such technology only works for reason: saying whether or not the ball has crossed the line is easy. Logistically, there is a substantial difference between the ball crossing a line and debating whether or not a player has dived, or made a deliberate movement of his hand toward the ball, or effectively any other decision. A goal is given if the ball crosses the line and that is the bottom line. Nothing else in the game is that straightforward.
Say a referee is given a second look at a decision he’s made regarding a penalty. And a third look. All at a slowed-down pace. If it’s a debate over whether the player has dived, it’ll boil down to subjectivity. If a player is judged to have handled the ball, it’ll boil down to subjectivity. If the referee is attempting to ascertain the amount of contact made on a player, or whether the perpetrator could have physically gotten out of the way on time, or whether the attacker has manipulated the situation to ‘win’ a penalty, it will all still boil down to subjectivity. However, even after officials are asked to make a judgement call, there will still be doubt. After multiple viewings in the matchday studio and in the commentary box, debate still rages from the pundits to the pub-goers. Why would an extra few replays change that if it’s still open to interpretation?
The technology debate is pretty reactive. It flares up after controversy for a few days then disappears until the next apparent discrepancy in officiating. For instance, the weekend which saw dubious calls on penalties at the Emirates and the Etihad was responded to by numerous pleas of more help for officials. Since then, the normal hustle and bustle of the football news media has gone about its daily routine of managerial merry-go-round rumour-mongering and ‘5 Things We Learned’ listicles. It seems to be an almost exclusive criticism of the Premier League that video technology is not in use – how often do you see other major European leagues flaring up with rage at perceived refereeing mistakes? Rarely ever.
So if it is Premier League exclusive, and not a football-wide pandemic, surely a more logical and cost-effective solution would be to train referees to a suitable level? Or perhaps, even better, make the laws clearer and less open to debate? If that’s possible, it becomes less subjective. It would then be a matter of applying the laws instead of the evermore controversial routine of interpreting them.
Another argument which is used consistently is that football is archaic in comparison to other sports. But again, this argument is short-sighted. There’s no point in looking at the way technology is implemented in other sports because every sport is unique in its necessities. Tennis, for instance, uses a similar hawkeye system to football’s current goal-line technology – so that comparison is fruitless, as its equivalent has already been introduced. Rugby Union is entirely unique – the video referee is only really called upon when the ball is obscured in a bundle of players and the decision becomes literally impossible for a referee to make at full speed. “So train those referees too! It’s the same principle as in football!” Well, no. Not really. The only way further training would aid rugby officials in their situation is if they were genetically enhanced with x-ray vision to see past the mound of players and decide whether or not the ball had been grounded successfully. Cricket, too, has introduced its decision review system (DRS) and even then there’s controversy. The idea behind ‘umpire’s call’ is utter lunacy, as well as the fact that some run-out appeals are just as subjective on replay. Sometimes, as is the case with cricket, video replays serve only in passing the buck.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a total dinosaur – I’m not entirely opposed to video technology. It’s just that from all that I’ve seen and read, I’ve yet to see either a realistic implementation strategy or a way in which it would eliminate the ever-present subjectivity of decision-making.