Sport

Tuesday 20 August 2019

Video refs would eradicate so many of game's problems

Infamous: Thierry Henry’s handball which led to the crucial French goal in 2009
Infamous: Thierry Henry’s handball which led to the crucial French goal in 2009
Argentina's Diego Maradona beats Peter Shilton with his infamous 'Hand of God' goal

Erroll Sweeney

Hooray and Hallelujah, FIFA have come into the 21st century at last, albeit kicking and screaming. The world body have finally embraced technology, or at least some of it.

We already have Goal Line Technology (GLT). GLT is used when there is a dispute as to whether "the whole of the ball passes over the goal line, between the goalposts and under the crossbar, provided that no infringement of the Laws of the Game has been committed previously by the team scoring the goal". (Law 9 Method of Scoring, FIFA Laws of the Game).

GLT is widely used in major games, especially in the English Premier League. The referees wear a contraption on their wrists similar to a watch and call upon it when there is a dispute as to whether a goal has been scored or not.

This was first introduced also at the World Club Championships in Japan in 2012 and proved to be enormously successful.

Many argued that it would slow the game down but in fact it can be used effectively and efficiently and a decision taken in a matter of seconds, with the dispute settled beyond doubt.

The Video Assistant Referee system (VARs) initiative, as outlined by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) which oversees the Laws of the Game, consists of an additional referee positioned in a booth with technology that allows access to video at a finger's touch from every available camera angle.

Six countries (Australia, Brazil, Germany, Portugal, the Netherlands and the USA) were asked to experiment with it earlier this year and report back. It proved to be enormously successful.

Similar systems are used very effectively in rugby, cricket and tennis.

This new system has been a long time coming and no thanks to former FIFA president Sepp Blatter. He was very much against technology to help referees, arguing that so long as people are talking about football either positively or negatively, the game will continue to thrive.

He had little or no consideration or compassion for the men and women in black who regularly have to suffer abuse and insults from all and sundry, and in many cases physical attacks, from players and club officials.

I have personal experience of such thuggery from so-called sports people and it is not a pleasant experience, believe me.

To those who would argue against the new system I would say this:

• Remember the 'Hand of God' incident where Diego Maradona used his hand to punch the ball into the net against England at the 1986 World Cup?

• Remember when Ireland were denied a place at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa because Thierry Henry used his hand to control the ball and set up the equalising goal for France which put us out?

• Remember when Frank Lampard was denied a goal for England against Germany in their last-16 match at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa?

These are just three instances where this new system could have been used. It could also be used to expose the cheaters and divers in the modern game - of which we have too many.

Far from driving people away from the 'beautiful game', I believe it will enhance it - because the perpetrators of skulduggery who, to a large extent, contribute to what is wrong in the game today.

They will know that they are being watched and monitored and will think twice before embarking on their chicanery:

• How many times have we read and heard club coaches and managers complain about alleged injustices against their players from decisions given by referees and assistant referees?

• How many times have we heard referees being berated, criticised and vilified over decisions that didn't go a particular team's way?

• How many times have match officials been escorted off the field of play by security personnel at the end of a game as protection from disgruntled players and coaching staff?

The VARs will allow referees to review, on a screen at the side of the pitch, incidents that are contentions and have not come to their attention nor their assistants.

It was trialled recently at the 2016 World Club Championships in Japan and was used by Hungarian referee Victor Kassai for the first time following a protest from a player from Japanese J1 team Kashima Antlers in their semi-final against Atletico Nacional from Colombia.

It was clear that both the referee and his assistant missed the incident. However, on video replay it was clear to see that Atletico player Orlando Berrio cleverly and cynically tripped Daigo Nishi from Kashima.

The referee then awarded a penalty kick which was converted by Shoma Doi. In this case justice was not only done, but seen to be done.

It was also telling that there was little or no protest from the Atletico team or their officials.

Perhaps the system would need to be tweaked a little bit more by giving each team say three opportunities in a game to review certain incidents and when their three chances are gone then they are not allowed to protest any more decisions without a certain punishment.

There is so much at stake in the modern game and there is so much money involved that such a system is not only inevitable and desirable, but necessary.

One referee's decision can mean the difference between a team winning or losing a league title, between staying up or being relegated, between winning a major cup competition or losing it.

Why should the match officials be blamed for human errors (and we're all human) when there is technology available to prove conclusively whether a goal is scored or not, whether a penalty is justified or not, or whether a goal is offside or not?

Bring it on, I say - and the sooner the better.

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