A great game of cricket concluded recently which saw India being crowned world champions for the first time since 1983. 28 years that saw numerous changes being introduced in the game. From shortening the duration, coloured clothing, power plays and aluminium cricket bats to arguably the most important change of all – the Umpire Decision Review System.
The system allows both teams two unsuccessful review request per innings. So, a fielding team may dispute a ‘not out’ call and the batting team may do so for an ‘out’ call. Not without its flaws off course, the system has invariably made the game fairer by the use of technology that was already available.
The decision however to adopt this technology hasn’t come without the initial opposition. As someone who has been following cricket literally from the egg I too wasn’t in favour of video technology from the off. I for one was always made to believe that officiating errors are and will always be an intimate part of how the game is played. The position of an umpire in cricket is a very different from that of a referee in football. A cricketing umpire holds the utmost respect where cricketers are always told to accept any decision without the faintest hint of discord. Dissent normally leads to fines and match bans.
So in such a hierarchy, to propose the use of technology that would inevitably make the umpire look like a chump was sure to meet with staunch opposition from the cricketing purists. Thus any attempt to undermine the supreme authority of the umpires was routinely dismissed by the purists (a coterie I until recently considered myself to be a part off) who continued to revel in the belief the mistakes simply add to the charm of the game. A sort of romanticism that would be destroyed by the introduction of ‘unnecessary’ technology.
This kind of resistance did not however cause too much of problem until recently. Today, with the advancement of technology it often happens that a billion people around the world are able to catch the obvious flaw in a decision that appears to have eluded the umpire. Hawk eyes, slow motion replay and other technologies havallowed us to scrutinise each and every decision made leaving the hapless umpire to rely solely on split second decisions. This coupled with the fact that most sports had started embracing technology made the cricketing bodies stand up and take notice. And after much deliberation the UDRS was officially launched by the ICC (the FIFA of cricket if you may) on the 24th of November 2009 in the first test match between New Zealand and Pakistan.
|there isn’t much of an argument for resisting progress|
Football in spite of being the most widely followed sport in the world refuses to jump on the technology bandwagon. Call it stubbornness, incompetence or sheer corruption, the fact remains that there isn’t much of an argument for resisting progress. There is really no point in abusing the referee and questioning his neutrality. The referee in spite of what many fans would want you to believe does not –well, normally at least – have a personal vendetta against any club. Yes, like any human being he does tend to make the odd mistake and get unnecessarily influenced by fans and players alike. But in an environment where players are going all out to con the referee, you really can’t blame him for making the occasional gaffe. And the nature of sports is such that the referee will always be remembered for the goof-up.
With all the points in favour of implementing technology in football one does wonder why there have been so many roadblocks. How has technology so seamlessly integrated with cricket and why is football unwilling to take the leap?
To answer the above question one would have to understand the difference between the two sports (football and cricket of course) as sporting spectacles. As a cricket viewing you tend accept breaks/stoppages as a normal part of the game. There’s normally a minutes’ break after every over, drinks breaks, ball changes, fall of wickets and so on. To add to that, technology already has a very important part to play in cricket with run out decisions normally referred to the TV umpire (the 3rd Umpire). So a spectator is generally more sympathetic towards stoppages in the game.
Football on the other hand is non-stop and fast paced with only injuries and rare extremities causing any sizeable disruption to the flow. Thus any attempt to introduce breaks would have its detractors. So for technology to be successful in football it has to be instantaneous.
So what are the possible options?
Lampard’s disallowed goal in last summer’s edition of the world cup caused enough controversy that FIFA President Sepp Blatter publically apologised for the gross error and the event convinced the governing body to commission experiments into goal line technology (GLT).
In this respect two competing systems have been proposed to FIFA. Firstly we have Hawk Eye, the same technology that forms the backbone of the UDRS in cricket. The Winchester based company proposes using up to six high speed cameras in the stands at each end of the field to assess the ball’s flight path. The system however is not real time and would require the referee to stop and review the disputed play. Additionally, it requires at least 25% visibility to ensure accuracy. So the major criticisms of the system are that it would not only slow the game down, but the statistical margin of error would be very high.
The second system proposed jointly by Adidas and a German firm call Cairos Technologies places a chip inside the football which would send signal to the referee. The results are instantaneous depending on how you define ‘instantaneous’. FIFA requires that an indication of whether a goal has been scored on not be confirmed within 1 second. Many feel that this one second rule might be impossible to meet.
There would always be decisions that in spite of technology would have to be left to the interpretation of the referee. Video replay might help you review a yellow card but the final decision would still depend on how the person watching the replay views it. So introducing reviews in this case might turn out to be detrimental.
Considering all the possibilities – the questions according to me is that – as in cricket would allowing each side a couple of opportunities to challenge the decision of the referee really endanger footballs worth as a sporting spectacle? Would the time ‘wasted’ not be similar to that during a penalty kick? Most importantly – would it not make the game irrefutably fairer?
My argument of course is not infallible. But then, there is no argument for technology without the obvious shortcomings. If there was, then technology in football would have already seen the light of day. Yes, there are justified criticisms of the proposed technology but at the end of the day the greatest stumbling block is – as was the case with cricket – that such technology would appear to reduce the human element of the game. The sheer joy of debating blunders.
| Other sports regularly change the laws of the game to react to the new technology. We don’t do it and this makes the fascination and the popularity of football.