June 25, 2011

JUNE-EVALUATION: Technical Aids in football ?

Who does not remember the curious incident in the 1966 World Cup’ final between Germany and England? As German, I am still angry about the man from Uzbekistan…
Who does not remember the curious incident in last year’s World Cup last 16 encounter between Germany and England which occurred in the 38th minute? One thing is sure, the assistant referee Mauricio Espinoza from Uruguay will never forget it.

And just for remembering the situation can be seen in the picture on the right hand-side, made by some talented guys who had seen the situation a bit differently..
What happened? In both situations, the ball crossed obviously the line, respectively the ball crossed probably not the line. The assistant referees both made the wrong decision, England became world champion in 1966, Germany ensured 2010 a debacle for England. However, everyone knows this (hi)story, so what’s the difference? 

There is one big difference indeed, last summer, this incident could have been avoided. Whereby? 
By modern technique which was not available for the linesman from the then Soviet Union in 1966.
We have the technique, therefore: why do not we (better: the decision makers) use it? There might be a lot of opportunities that even prestigious referees like Markus Merk demand and there are certainly a couple of good reasons for and against the use of technical aids in football which should be evaluated in the following.

An example of technical aids in another kind of sport - Tennis

At the moment, the tennis world looks at Wimbelon’s Grand Slam tournament. After a few years, one thing may not be missing: the “Hawk-Eye”. How does it function? Well, at first this computer system is supposed to show exactly whether a played ball was good (= touched the line) or out. It is based on at least four high-speed-video-processors whose information is transformed into data which exactly defines e.g. the angle of a ball. Therefore, the computer system is allowed to collect this data and transmit it into an official review. Each player has got an amount of three “challenges” per set, if the player is successful with his challenge, he still has the same number as before. If the challenge shows that the chair umpire was correct, the player looses one challenge. If a match goes into Tie Break, each player gets one additional challenge.
Watch this video to get an impression of how it operates during a match. Of course, the influenced players’ and umpire’ names may not miss: Safin vs. Federer, Chair Umpire Pascal Maria (FRA).

Finally, it has to be mentioned that these decisions are not 100 % safe. There may be a discrepancy of maximal 4 mm. For this reason, this technique is very controversial..

But let us return to “our” kind of sports, i.e. football. Naturally, the question of whether one may implement technical aids in a football match only concerns goal decisions (whether the ball crossed the line). If other decisions – like offside – would be challenged by the teams, this would definetely destroy the match. So which opportunities are available?
A large number: video cameras who observe the goal line. Perhaps each team could use this a specific number of times, however, how should it be in praxis? Interrupting the match etc., this technique is too elaborate. Therefore, we can leave the video device out of consideration.
As I mentioned Markus Merk above, I naturally have totake up UEFA’s efforts in this field: AARs = Additional Assistant Referees. This “system” exists for two seasons in Europe League and one season in Champions League. Pierluigi Collina, member of UEFA’s referee comitee, hails this system with the words “Now, we see more”. No Pierluigi, that is absolutely wrong. I had the chance to visit Champions-League matches of my favourite club Schalke 04 last year and I naturally paid a lot of attention to the behaviour of those additional assistant referees. I often asked myself: Why are they there? What is the reason? They saw nothing, had no spunk to influence the match and in addition to this, many decisions which were made in the last season by these AARs were terribly wrong (e.g. Tottenham-Twente, Terje Hauge). Of course, there are cases as well when they saw a ball crossing the line and that is of course a good aspect.
What about a chip or sensor in the ball? Why not..this little thing would be at least exactly and could be connected with the referee’s headset-system. The question is whether 100 % safety could be ensured, but without any doubt, the percentage would be much higher then humane eyes.
Nevertheless, this system would be only for those “goal-or-not-decisions”, but ok, that is our problem here.
And finally, there is one big argument against any technical aid and I often thought about it and came to the result, that the following thought is not that wrong:
22 players on the pitch make mistakes, their decisions and mistakes lead to goals or other things which characterizes a match. Why should not be the other members of a match – the referees – be allowed to make mistakes? It is a kind of sports that depends on humans and humane decisions.
By the way, if the Wembley Goal had not appeared, something would have been missing over the years in German football history.

Taking everything into consideration, only one technical aid is possible to my mind: a chip in the ball. The main question is whether this technique influences the humanity of football or not. In my opinion, ensuring correct goal decisions is absolutely necessary, even since money plays such a big role in football.


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