BY LIAM NEWMAN
TV, or not TV? That is the pertinent question on everybody’s lips right now as the worldwide debate on whether football should incorporate video replay technology adorns back page headlines on a near daily basis.
Whilst discussions on the matter have been a mainstay of football politics for some years, the debate had largely been pushed to the periphery in favour of negotiations surrounding goal-line technology. Since that issue was resolved, however, the notion of video refereeing has become the number one talking point by football associations across the globe as well as world governing body FIFA.
The general consensus from those within the game is that the introduction of video replays would be beneficial to the sport. Conceptually, the notion has really gained momentum over the past year or so with various managers, chairmen, match officials and media pundits all voicing their support for the proposal.
Theoretically, it doesn’t take a genius to understand the growing enthusiasm towards the idea. In an era where so much money could rest on a single decision, it is no surprise that leading figures connected to the business side of football are almost entirely behind the proposed changes. Meanwhile, the increasing regularity of attempted deceit by a generation of players who have seemingly abandoned their morals dictates that action must be taken.
Whilst dishonesty has always tarnished the game to some degree – and those who argue otherwise need only cast their eyes back to a certain World Cup quarter-final of 1986 – the frequency of dives and cheating has hit an alarming rate in recent years and it has become strikingly obvious that isn’t a temporary problem. With the stakes so high, players are now willing to do anything in order to secure results – some sections would even suggest conning officials is now a fundamental attribute shared by the game’s top players.
Moreover, the incontestable success of goal-line technology quashes arguments that alterations can’t be utilised to improve the sport. Theoretically, at least, the introduction of video refereeing appears to be a no brainer. In reality, though, it’s a far more complex matter.
One of the chief obstacles standing in the way of the proposal is finding a practical method of implicating the technology. Introducing goal-line technology raised far fewer questions than video refereeing would because it is used to offer factual analysis. The ball either crosses the line or it doesn’t: it is an exact science that cannot be disputed.
Comparatively, video replays wouldn’t necessarily clear up anything. Rather than shedding light on the black and white matter of whether a ball crosses the line, this technological advancement would be used to assist human judgement. Herein lies one of the main dilemmas surrounding the entire proposal.
A referee’s purpose is to make decisions, whether that be calling a foul, brandishing a card or recognising theatrical simulation. Video footage would be a useful tool for officials and could certainly aid the judgment process but, essentially, the final verdict will continue to be a human conclusion irrespective of how it is formulated. Consequently, no amount of technology will ever rid the game of incorrectness and many quarters would suggest that factor renders the proposal pointless. Additionally, if the sound of 70,000 fans can subconsciously influence a split-second decision, imagine the impact it could have during the incident review.
Furthermore, arguments surrounding a correct or incorrect call are a major force behind our love of the sport. Football without incident could fall into the trap of becoming robotic and stale; whilst we all understand and appreciate the business side of the sport, it will forever remain a game driven by supporters and the worldwide passion for the beautiful game lies within the spectacle.
The unpredictable nature of football is what makes it so fascinating and nobody could contest the fact that the possibility of one decision turning a game on its head adds an extra element of adrenaline. Moreover, whilst it has become almost impossible to not sympathise with the arduous task that referees are given, experiencing feelings of antipathy towards the officials provides another ingredient to the concoction of emotion and excitement.
Football is the ultimate drama of emotions and, for 90 minutes, referees are the perfect pantomime villain. Additionally, video replays would make it extremely difficult for managers to vent their anger in post-match conferences. Likewise, media punditry would soon carry an air of mundanity.
However, it is commonly accepted by those who run the game that the benefits of said changes would easily outweigh the negatives and the various organising bodies are readily trying to find an appropriate solution. In relation to video technology, it appears that the main question for the International Football Association Board, who regulate the internationally accepted rules of the game, and FIFA isn’t ‘why’, but rather ‘how’.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter has previously suggested a trial run of a system that would allow managers one call per half, which would at least leave space for ample fan debate, but naysayers will dismiss the purpose of introducing the technology unless it is actually going to help solve the current problems within the game. Under the proposed model, you would still need a manager to spot the poor decision for any action to be taken, whilst the restriction of two challenges a game could also be open to exploitation.
Additionally, the proposal dictated that the review process would entail the referee heading over to the touchline to watch and discuss the incident with the unhappy manager. This in itself poses two potential problems. Firstly, depending on the situation, this could bring a huge disruption to the flow of a game. Secondly, officials could be vulnerable to manager manipulation.
Still, it is an avenue that could be worth pursuing. Unfortunately for supporters of the idea, initial plans to test it out at this year’s U20 FIFA World Cup in New Zealand appear virtually dead following the IFAB’s February announcement to put any concrete arrangements on hold. That proclamation was met by widespread animosity from those who support the notion of video replays but in reality there is no point in trialling an unfinished model, which is why a Dutch system in need of expansion would have also proved to be a futile exercise.
It took years for goal-line technology, which is a far less complicated issue, to obtain the green light and that unequivocally helped the cause long-term. As FIFA have openly admitted, this proposal would signal the single greatest fundamental change that the game has ever dealt with. Those suggesting time is of the essence are wrong; the key element is to get it right.
The DNA of football has undergone huge change over the past two decades and the need for change is unmistakable. We’ve already seen other sports implement computerised assistance and there is no reason that the beautiful game cannot find new ways to improve the game. However, sports like cricket and tennis are blessed with natural stoppages that football doesn’t possess. The fast-paced energy is a fundamental that football simply cannot afford to forget, even if it does result in a better standard of officiating.
Theoretically, the addition of video replays could be great, but it would be foolish for the sport to dump the traditions that create such thrilling drama. Perhaps accepting the fact theatrics are now part and parcel of football is just one of the sacrifices required in favour of a quicker, more skilled sport.
Supporters of video reviews will imply that it is a natural progression. Maybe they are right; the world does move on and even football cannot be exempt. In my opinion, though, a step forward in technology would signal a huge step back for the spectacle. Change can be for the better, as goal-line technology has demonstrated, but the grass isn’t always greener and football shouldn’t succumb to the illusion that ‘new’ is automatically better.
Sometimes beauty is best left untouched. Leave the game as it is. Beautiful.
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