It came as no surprise to many of us to read this week that the law-making body for the conduct of the game of football – the International Football Association Board (IFAB) – had added to its agenda for their next meeting in March the topic of video replays for ‘controversial’ incidents. IFAB is the only body in football that can change the established Rules of the game.
It’s down on the Agenda under ’any other business’, alongside the concept of a footie ‘sin bin’ which Uefa Chairman, Michel Platini, proposed in an interview late last year, as a possible substitute for yellow cards. Michel will like that but, along with many of us, he won’t be so happy to see the real prospect of discussions about video replays for almost anything ‘controversial’ which happens on a football pitch.
To my mind, almost everything that happens in a game of football after the ref blows his whistle for the kick-off is ‘controversial’. Damn near everything, anyway. How do we sort out what’s worthy of investigation when, in a sport so fluid and subject to the vagaries of chance as football, one damn thing leads to another all the time, and absolutely everything that happens on the pitch may be connected to the fate of the game?
And this was the problem that many predicted when goal-line technology was so vigorously sold into football, and the decision to allow its use was taken. The use of goal-line technology to decide whether the ball is over the line, and it’s a goal or not, is sensible in the abstract: the decision is straightforward and rapid (and the crowd can have the fact verified on the big screen). It’s an ‘off the pitch’ event, and it doesn’t require a complex judgment.
But when it comes to the other, actually equally important, events that can lead directly to a goal and which all take place on the pitch – like offside decisions; handballs; fouls and penalties – it ain’t so easy to make a quick call. We already have ‘video replays’ if we’re watching the match on TV, and even panels of famous & experienced ex-players in the studio often can’t agree on a decision.
If you insisted that only one guy off the field watching the replay would make the call, that would be as arbitrary as leaving it up to the referee in the first place. If more than one pair of eyes are involved, it could lead to indecision and delay.
The problem is that we are bedazzled by the new technology and drunkenly confused about the impact money has on football at the top level (which is the only location with the dosh to pay for this fancy technology, of course; you’re never going to have video replays in the lower leagues.).
The argument is that the new tech can deliver fast and these decisions often have huge financial significance for the clubs/nations involved. Look at the end of season play-offs to get into the Premier League; culminating in one match described as ‘the richest game in the world’ because the winner will get £90million as a result.
Does money alone make the match important? Do you think it was any less important for those who really cared about their club back in the day, when no one measured promotion to the top level in pounds, shillings and pence?
If you don’t want to use the new technology, you fear being branded as an old fogie; allergic to change. There’s anargument that insists: if we can do it, we should do it. But if you really want to deliver the kind of revolution that the new tech can accomplish, why not think real revolutionary thoughts.
What it would be like if, given the developments in digital technology and the mass ownership of portable devices like mobiles, tablets et al, the game eventually democratised all decision-making during a football match? If the crowd en masse could, in effect, call for a video replay whenever they thought it appropriate, and vote on the decision.
Why not? We’ve got the technology to do it.
Dr Rogan Taylor is the Director of the Football Industry Group at the University of Liverpool. He is also a writer and broadcaster, with five football books and numerous radio and TV contributions. He has acted as a special adviser to The FA, The Premier League and Premier League Clubs.