If a surgeon was given the opportunity to use a new instrument which would improve their accuracy, do you think they would turn it down in the name of tradition? If a lawyer had access to fresh evidence during a case which could make an honest finding more feasible, would they refuse to look at it because they didn’t want to slow down the courts? And if a Minister legislated in the House of Commons knowing that all the facts had not been considered, would the public find this acceptable?back
Of course the answer is no, and if you found out your lawyer, your doctor or politician was behaving this way you’d want a second opinion.
But football seems to be the exception to the rule of logic.
For years the debate over goal-line technology has raged. The footballing community’s failure to adopt sensible and available technology has meant games have been ruined by well intentioned but fallible refereeing decisions. No matter what team you support there is at least one big decision every season that confounds you. FIFA needs to act and have now belatedly announced that goal-line technology could be a step closer if the next set of testing proves successful.
FIFA has said in the past that it didn’t want to eliminate the element of human error and continuity of football. Everyone agrees that we do not want NFL-style breaks in between every decision, which would stop the speed, skill and surprise which makes football so unique. But human error? Is there a person in the world who would rather see an incorrect call than a correct one? Why is football the one walk of life where error has become romanticised? I'd rather see the right decision announced twenty seconds later using technology than the wrong one instinctively awarded by an under-pressure ref.
People say football is the world’s beautiful game and that is hard to argue against when watching Barca, perhaps the most beautiful team in history. But this sublime football is jeopardised every week by errors in refereeing born not of human fault – no-one could get all the calls right all the time at that speed – but because of a misguided attachment to tradition about a game which has since gone global. Millions and pounds rest on each decision and decisions impact on the emotions of millions of people.
Michel Platini, the arch opponent to goal-line technology, said football “is a game of human beings”. Why not then use the technology human beings have designed to improve a sport human being adore?
There are a lot of debates this opens, for example over retrospective punishment for diving or whether managers should be allowed to challenge decisions at full time or even during matches, but football should not be scared of debate.
The irony of football’s resistance is accentuated by other sports’ adoption of technology – Rugby League and Union, tennis and cricket all use forms of technology to judge refereeing decisions. After several controversies Hawk Eye is routinely deployed and considered a huge success. These sports have all benefitted from technology and are growing in popularity around the world.
There is a wider issue here about respect. In relation to football this word relates to the anti-racism campaign which has made real and important strides. But we overlook the complete lack of respect for officials in football. When I watch the Six Nations on telly I can hear the ref explain his decision and the players calling the ref only one name - 'Sir'. Now contrast that with football. Can you imagine the 'dialogue' between football players and officials? Can you imagine that before the TV watershed? TV cameras are scared of audiences being able to lip read players’ words let alone hear them.
As part of this debate about technology and the rules we should widen our conversation to consider the culture of football. How do we achieve the adult conduct of rugby with the pace, power, passion and precision of football? Now that’s something that technology can’t solve.