x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 September 2017

A line needs to be drawn on goal technology in football

What happens, once GLT is in, when there is a repeat of Diego Maradona's punched goal against England, or Thierry Henry's handball against Ireland?

Replays showed John Terry's clearance for England against Ukraine was from behind the line.
Replays showed John Terry's clearance for England against Ukraine was from behind the line.

Ian Taylor is not the best proponent for the usage of technology in sports. There is nothing wrong with this, except that Taylor runs Animation Research Limited (ARL), a leading provider of computer graphics in sports coverage, and is creator of Virtual Eye, a leading ball-tracking software.

He is a pioneer too, providing groundbreaking graphics for the America's Cup in the early 1990s, as well as golf, tennis and cricket since.

Yet his natural instinct is to be wary of what he does: when cricket decided to formalise the role of technology in its Decision Review System, Taylor was opposed to it, aware of the limitations of his own creation.

So, unsurprisingly, Taylor believes football's agonising over goal-line technology (GLT) to be unnecessarily accentuated.

On July 5 lawmakers will decide on the implementation of GLT. Eight companies with different methods have provided potential solutions, but the list has been whittled down to two: GoalRef and Hawk-Eye (a competitor to Virtual Eye).

GoalRef uses a combination of magnetic signals and sensors installed in the goal's framework as well as inside the ball, so that as the ball crosses the goal-line, a signal will instantly be sent to the referee. Hawk-Eye is more familiar, using high-speed cameras and a process of triangulation to track the ball's flight.

Both feel excessive to Taylor. "[If I had been in touch with Fifa] I'd be telling them they didn't need us. It would be lovely to have that work, but actually it is overkill."

Instead, Taylor proposes, all that is required are high-definition cameras inside the goalmouth, perhaps built into the crossbar looking straight down, or at each corner flag looking across.

One official, in a separate room, has access only to these cameras only for these decisions and signals immediately to the referee whether or not the ball has crossed.

"They've already got all the technology they need," Taylor believes.

Taylor's solution is probably too simple, for when bodies are flying around the goal line or a goalkeeper has covered the ball (or when a ball thuds on to and shakes the crossbar and thus the camera) these cameras might not be enough (typically Taylor believes marginal decisions should just be left to the referee). Incidentally, ice hockey has been using replays for such decisions for years, internationally and in leagues.

But Taylor's views capture something of the nature of the technology debate, about how easy - and sometimes necessary - it is to complicate what appear to be simple problems.

It is, for example, straightforward enough to say just now that technology should be used for goal-line decisions and nothing else.

But once it is allowed, as sure as night follows day, the debate will grow to ask whether technology should be expanded to other decisions. Now on the surface football is limited in the scope of decisions its referees have to make, especially in comparison to, say, umpires in cricket.

Cricket is particularly instructive because 20 years ago it decided umpires needed video replays only for line-calls.

But over time the game - and its viewership - discovered a healthy appetite for technology, realising that there was no decision that could not be referred off-field. But even away from the goal line there is much room for contention and of match-affecting nature.

What happens, once GLT is in, when there is a repeat of Diego Maradona's punched goal against England, or Thierry Henry's handball against Ireland?

Once a degree of technology has infiltrated, the justifications for broadening its use become louder, more compelling.

It isn't impossible to imagine a future where offsides - even fouls - become football's lbws, technology opening them to greater interpretation, conjecture and, ultimately, contention.

This is precisely what worries the Uefa president Michel Platini, but not so much Arsene Wenger, who does not mind intrusion as long as correct decisions are made.

There will be more pressing, narrowing concerns as well, such as who foots the costs and whether it is feasible to implement it uniformly across the world.

And while pondering over all this, football must also accept, like cricket, there is a strong possibility that years from now, even with GLT and other aids, it stands exactly where it begins today: with referees still getting decisions wrong and all of us shouting about it.

Sometimes that is just how both humans and technology work.

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

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