Writer’s Block: Goal-line technology is approved

A press release last week revealed that FIFA, the world’s governing body of football (soccer), has at last embraced goal-line technology. It was not until recently that I came to the conclusion that it was needed; incidents over the years changed by mind.

Peter Bodley
Peter Bodley

Goal-line technology will be rolled out at the 2014 World Cup, which will take place in Brazil, but before that it will be used in the FIFA Confederations Cup, which will also be hosted in Brazil in mid to late June.

It also got a try out at FIFA’s Club World Cup championship in Japan in December 2012 and the apparent success has prompted FIFA to take what is a major step to introduce it in World Cup.

Why all the fuss. Well, in the long history of soccer, goals have been allowed or disallowed based on whether the referee and/or assistant referee (linesman) believe that the ball has crossed the goal-line – sometimes a very difficult decision – and with instant replays the norm in any television sports broadcast, a wrong decision is very clear for all to see.

But that wasn’t the case in the 1966 World Cup final between England and West Germany in London. The score was tied 2-2 after regulation and in extra time, a shot by England’s Geoff Hurst struck the underside of the crossbar. Whether it crossed the goal-line before spinning back out has not been determined to anyone’s satisfaction to this day. But the assistant referee signaled a goal and the decision gave England a 3-2 lead, while another goal in extra time made it a 4-2 final score for England. I remember watching the game on the BBC that summer and there were no TV replays available to clearly show whether the ball had crossed the line or not.

Ironically, it was another England versus Germany World Cup game, this time in South Africa in 2010, that prompted FIFA to seriously start considering goal-line technology. This was not a final, but Germany was ahead 2-1 when a shot by England’s Frank Lampard came back off the underside of the crossbar and was grabbed by the German goalkeeper. No goal was signaled by the referee or assistant referee, but TV replays showed that the ball landed several feet over line before spinning back. That would have tied the game 2-2; instead, within minutes Germany went ahead 3-1 and won the game 4-1, deservedly I might add.

Then in the 2012 European Cup last summer, Ukraine was denied a goal against England in a game England won 1-0 when the referee ruled a shot had not crossed the line before being cleared by an English defender. The ball had definitely crossed the line, TV replays showed, to put more pressure on FIFA.

Two goal-line technology products, both approved by FIFA and used in Japan in December, are vying to be chosen. One called Goalref uses magnetic sensors both inside the goal posts and on the match ball, to determine whether the ball cross the line, while the other, known as Hawkeye, which is used in tennis and cricket, has a number of cameras focused on each goal to give a 3D picture of the ball’s exact location.

Both systems connect to a wrist band worn by the referee which lets him know in under a second if the ball has crossed the line, negating one of the original concerns of the technology – that the game would be delayed for several minutes while a controversial decision was reviewed in a way similar to college and NFL football. FIFA is expected to make a decision on a system in April.

While the English Premier League has stated that it will introduce goal-line technology sooner than later, the cost of installing could well make it difficult for the technology to be put in place on a worldwide basis and besides Michel Platini, the president of UEFA, the governing body of football in Europe, remains adamantly opposed to the technology. UEFA-sanctioned European Champions League and Europa League club competitions have two extra officials, one stationed behind each goal.

Once goal-line technology is introduced, there will be a clamor for technology to be expanded to determine, for example, whether an offside decision is correct. I, for one, don’t think it should. The human element needs to remain in the game.