Referee mistake raises debate for goal-line technology

2 min read

The widely perceived refereeing error that denied Frank Lampard’s goal in the England v Germany match yesterday has raised the debate on implementing goal-line technology to a fever pitch.

Steve Haake, head of sports engineering at Sheffield Hallam University, said that the call from the Uruguayan referee in yesterday’s match was clearly erroneous but he would have saved face with technology to help him make a better decision.

‘The simplest would be video replay,’ he said. ‘The referee still has to make the decision on whether it’s over the line or not but he’s got a better method than just doing it by eye.’

Haake added that companies such as Adidas and technology group Cairos are developing more high-technology solutions. The companies have tested the feasibility of covering the front and back of the goal area in an invisible shield of magnetic radiation. When the ball, which has a sensor built into it, crosses the line, it will flag up a goal on a device worn on the referee’s wrist. 

Alternatively, Haake said, FIFA could look to the success of Hawk-Eye ball trajectory prediction systems used in tennis. These systems use multiple cameras and triangulation to determine whether the ball lands in or outside the line with a reported accuracy of about 2mm.

In a football scenario, Haake imagined dozens of cameras surrounding the goal looking at the line from multiple angles to give a clear 3D depiction of where the ball travelled.

While some argue that football is better when there is controversy and that technology will take away the after-match pub debate, Haake disagreed, saying referees and viewers at home should have access to similar information. Referring to the Lampard call: ‘That ball was 0.5m over. That’s not debate, that’s just plain wrong. It’s out of kilter with what a proper debate is all about.’

In 2008, FIFA dismissed the concept of goal-line technology following tests of video replay and the Hawk-Eye system.

According to Haake, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) was seeking systems that gave correct decisions automatically 100 per cent of the time and claimed that neither video replay nor Hawk-Eye could do so.

In a recent company statement, Hawk-Eye responded to this accusation, saying: ‘The official press statement after the IFAB meeting in March 2010 accepted that its decision was not because the technology did not work, but because of the fundamental issue of whether technology is good for the game. Despite this, more recently [FIFA president Joseph] Sepp Blatter did justify the goal-line decision by stating that Hawk-Eye is not accurate. This is a mistruth, and Sepp Blatter is aware of that.’

Haake believes that FIFA has a lack of understanding and a fear of technology and this is why the organisation is dragging its heels on rolling out assistive systems for goal-line calls.

As to the odds of whether Hawk-Eye or another similar technology will make its debut in the next World Cup, Haake said: ‘On the one hand, I think it’s got be in by 2014 but, actually, if I was going to put my money down, I would put it on FIFA not doing a thing because that’s the kind of organisation they are.’