When on the 5th of July, 2012 the International Football Association Board (IFAB) approved the use of goal-line technology (GLT), it was victory for advocates of GLT. Being the body responsible for the Laws of the Game, any changes or modifications must be sanctioned by the IFAB and the traditional provisions relation to issues such as the qualities of the ball, when the ball is in or out of play, when a goal is scored and the referee/assistant referees, do not envisage the use of technology. Despite initially being opposed to the use of GLT especially given earlier unsuccessful tests, Sepp Blatter announced shortly after the 2010 World Cup that FIFA would re-open discussions into the matter. This followed high-profile refereeing errors, with the final straw being Frank Lampard’s unawarded goal in England’s 4-1 loss to Germany and consequent elimination from the World Cup.
The clamour for GLT has travelled a long road. In the 2000 African Nations’ Cup, Nigeria was eliminated by Cameroon following a penalty shoot-out in which Victor Ikpeba’s effort crossed the line after coming off the cross bar – a goal which was never awarded. There have been numerous high-profile incidents since then, including an English Premier League game in 2005 where the Manchester United goalkeeper Roy Carroll – in attempting to save a shot by Tottenham’s Pedro Mendes – dropped the ball behind the goal line, unspotted by the officials. Apart from unawarded goals, there have been reverse incidents such as when Chelsea beat Tottenham 2-1 in 2011 with one of their goals being a Frank Lampard shot which crept through Huerelho Gomes’ legs only to be clawed back just before it crossed the line, but a goal was awarded.
Proponents of GLT argue basically that it would significantly reduce refereeing errors and promote fair and just outcomes, which is a key tenet of sporting competition. This is buoyed by studies such as one which suggested that nearly 30% of refereeing errors in the 2010/2011 EPL season could have been prevented by video replay. Antagonists on the other hand present a range of arguments. There is the argument that if a referee has to get confirmation from GLT it would slow the game down and interrupt the flow; however, tests reportedly show that the notification would be received within less than a second of the ball crossing the line. There is another argument that the precision occasioned by technology would impact on the human element of the game and remove the enjoyment of debating mistakes; an argument which should be weighed against, for instance, Bolton being relegated on account of a wrongly disallowed goal in 2007. One argument which cannot easily be countered is that GLT would be too expensive to implement at all levels of the game, thus leading to non-uniform rules.
The arguments have now taken a back seat following FIFA’s decision to approve the use of GLT. In a process that began in 2011, nine GLT systems were initially tested and subsequently two were approved. Currently, GoalRef and Hawk-Eye are the first two technology providers to have signed licence agreements with FIFA. By virtue of these licence agreements, both companies now have authorisation to install their respective GLT systems worldwide. While the English Premier League appears receptive to the technology, Michel Platini’s UEFA is opposed to it, preferring the option of the ‘fifth official’ (an extra assistant referee for each goal post). However, this system proved ineffective in a Euro 2012 incident where the fifth official failed to spot that the shot by Ukraine’s Marko Dević had crossed the line before it was cleared by John Terry. Ukraine lost that final group game 1-0 to England and was eliminated from the competition.
Now that technology has found its way into football, the question is – what next? One fears that with the implementation of GLT, it would only be a matter of time before there are calls for ‘offside technology’. After all, the arguments for offside technology and the consequences of such refereeing errors are in many cases the same with those of GLT. Goals have been wrongly disallowed upon offside calls just as some have been wrongly awarded despite offside positional play. The implementation of GLT is a precedent, the crux of which is the use of technology to promote efficiency in refereeing decisions. This is a step towards the constant review feature that some say plagues American football and baseball. Football might just have opened a floodgate.