Their top athletes are some of the best-paid individuals in the sporting world, with sponsors and media companies paying vast sums of money for the honour of appearing on playing shirts or televising matches. The glitz and glamour that accompanies their global tournaments are perhaps matched only by the Olympics, whilst the fan base for the biggest clubs stretches into the hundreds of millions. Yet the football world has been languishing in the modernity race, seconded by sports like cricket and tennis, renowned for their conservative, laissez-faire attitudes. The bone of contention? The three word phrase that a Mr S. Blatter is now reported to be an ardent convert to, and purveyor of, is one that England fans in particular will remember in bitterness when recalling the 2010 World Cup. ‘Goal-Line Technology’ is set to make an appearance in international football in time for 2014; the start of the next World Cup. Is this a necessary action in order to save the game as we know it, or a move that will kill controversy and destroy debate for years to come?
In a recent game involving England and Ukraine in the group stages of Euro 2012, the debate over goal-line technology reached a crescendo of fury when John Terry cleared away Ukraine’s Milevskiy shot from behind the line. Without the benefit of specially placed cameras to assist the on-pitch referee in making a considered decision, and the apparent inability of the goal-side referee to determine the fate of the ball, the controversial call to declare that the ball had not crossed the line was given. Amidst the gnashing of teeth and wailing of forlorn Ukraine supporters, the President of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, promised that goal-line technology would become a ‘necessity’. In the maelstrom of protest and resignation-calling, there have been very few calls to examine whether having this extra amount of regulation in the game will help to improve matters.
The transformation that cricket has undergone is a prime example in illustrating how the introduction of ‘Hawk-eye’ and ‘Hot Spot’ have helped officials to referee the game as fairly as possible. Admittedly slow off the mark in structuring a competent refereeing system (the international body of cricketing umpires only being set up in 1994), the national and international world of cricket has been greatly improved by both the batting and fielding team being able to rely on the wonders of high-definition ball-tracking software and hardware to determine the smallest of nicks to the minute flight of the ball on the way to the wickets. It is indeed hard to remember the time when batsmen, wrongly given out, had no option but to trudge back to the pavilion, with only their own self-belief to support their feelings of being wronged. Similarly in tennis, it is unlikely that John McEnroe would have shouted quite so much at the hapless chair umpire had he been able to call upon ‘DRS’ (Decision Review System) to aid in his unswerving beliefs. Wimbledon, not renowned as the most liberal of historical sporting venues, allowed its natural conservatism to be overruled in favour of a system that not only gave support to the competitors, but involved the spectators in the decision-making process. It is now a common sight at both Lords and Wimbledon to hear the crowds getting geared up for the latest result of a challenge by a player.
In order to effect such a drastic and radical change to football’s status quo, the motives have to be right. This article has disregarded all levels of sport aside from the national and international arenas, for the simple reason that it is money that drives such competitions to become what they are; therefore, the focus of millions rests on these tournaments. Ask an England fan if goal-line technology should have been around in 2010, and the likely answer is a resounding, unequivocal affirmative. However, the flip side is that we English fans then squeezed several months of moaning, whinging and yes, debate, out of the whole incident – and as we all know, there is nothing that the English enjoy more than a good old moan.
There is a real danger that mainstream sports competitions will become too regulated, with overly-zealous machinery keeping hawk-eyes on the smallest of rules. Today, it will be a decision on a ball crossed a goal-line; a once in a blue moon occurrence. Tomorrow, it could be using the snickometer to ascertain the amount of contact made in a tackle. Debate, argument, and disagreements are what make memorable moments in football … memorable! It is undeniable that such technology has allowed the crowd to participate in the build-up to decisions, and creates a wonderful atmosphere, which is based on fairness and mostly indisputable fact. The problem; spectators and viewers finish with fewer talking points, less debate, less fun. Although I do no advocate a return to the ‘dark ages’ without such technology, I truly believe that the introduction of goal-line technology to Euro 2012 would have done away with the only real, blatant controversial event of the tournament, and it will kill the few outrageous decisions that keep us talking for years.
We moaned when Frank Lampard didn’t get awarded his goal in 2010. Imagine how much fun it would have been to see Ukraine get their rightful goal in 2012. Answer: none.