Should there be goal line technology?
Should goal line technology be used in football? Most England fans would have said 'yes' immediately after the decision which denied Lampard a clear goal against Germany. However, it could be argued that a world class referee should have recognised that the ball had crossed the line or that his assistant should have done even though he was not in line with the goal but had a clear enough vantage point.
In my experience of football linesmen they rarely give any assistance to the referee, but perhaps that is because the ref has told them 'look ater the offsides and leave the rest to me.' They even give way to being overruled dubiously by referees on throw ins. That attitude of superiority among referees probably rules out placing officials behind the goal for big games, although it is a routine practice in ice hockey and has been experimented with in football.
Fifa defends its views on goal line technology in the terms set out here. One of its main arguments is universality: the technology could only be afforded at the top level and should be available even at the park football level if it is to be used at all. My initial reaction was that this 'if everyone can't have it, no one can have it' stance failed to recognise the real differences between the top and bottom of the game and the consequences that can follow from an adverse result at the top level for managers and players. Indeed, one doesn't have to go as far as goal line technology: at top matches the fourth official is in radio contact with the referee and could easily have access to television replays.
However, a counter argument I have heard runs like this: 'I think you're right that the top levels of the game have little to do with what goes on in parks and gardens, but the fact that the elite game has become so out of touch with anyone who doesn't have a credit card or a satellite subscription is for me a good reason to pull back a bit from common sense ideas about what constitutes progress and moving into the 21st century.'
The same person also argued that just allowing the technology for decisions about goals (which would be my preference) could be the thin end of the wedge: 'Let's not let television entrench itself even further unto the game.' Exciting end to end football could be a thing of the past if teams can ask for penalties, corners, free-kick decisions etc. to be referred to a replay, which surely would be pushed for.' Well, it might be pushed for, but it could be resisted. Or one could allow each team one penalty appeal a game.
The technology has been accepted in games such as cricket and tennis where it is accepted that referees (umpires) are far from infalliable and the naked eye cannot always be relied on to get it right. In these sports the use of technology has been to enhance and confirm the role of the officials and has always been carefuly used and regulatred. My knowledge of rugby is limited, but it sometimes seems to me that it takes the video referee a longer time than is desirable to come to a decision.
Fifa emphasises improving the quality of referees, but we have heard that for years. Quite what thety have in mind is unclear: free vouchers at Specsavers? Or perhaps a special charter flight to Iceland which has a duty free opticians in its airport? We now have professional referees in the Premier League, but although they meet more to train and discuss decisions together, are they really any better? They are still not endowed with three and hundred sixty degree vision and any human being can make a mistake.
Fifa seem to think that incidents are part of the 'fun' of the game and that fans like to discuss incidents. Well, they will certainly be discussing the Lampard incident for years and not with fond memories. Technological change is always slow to come in football and there reasons for caution as one does not want to change the game too radically. But surely the day of goal line technology has come in big matches?
Shortly after I posted this article, news came through that Sepp Blatter had decided to re-open the issue of goal line technology. That's not the same thing as accepting it, although he hinted that it would be given serious consideration. There might just be a victory for common sense.