How far away is goal line technology?

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It was with depressing inevitability that the goal line technology debate reared its ugly head and marred another high-profile occasion; this time it was Chelsea’s FA Cup victory over Tottenham that was forced to take a back seat as the old argument was forced to the fore on once more.


Chelsea were the benefactors of an extremely fortuitous decision as referee Martin Atkinson incorrectly adjudged Juan Mata’s shot to have crossed the line – gifting the Blues their second goal on their way to a 5-1 rout that set up a final date at Wembley against Liverpool.


Inevitably much of the coverage the morning after has focused on the controversial incident, while the FA amongst others have released another statement backing the introduction of technology to detect when the ball has crossed the line – something they and the Premier League have been keen on for some time.


The History


Head of FIFA Sepp Blatter has already admitted he wants to see the technology used – so surely it is a done deal that soon we finally see technology used to aid referees in football sooner rather than later?


The date for your diary is July 2, when the International Football Association Board meet in Kiev to vote on whether to use goal line technology – a potentially historic day in football.


As with all things based on common-sense in football, it is not that simple, however. The process of introducing goal line technology has been a long and arduous one, and only recently has the tide turned and general consensus amongst the games governing bodies changed to being for it rather than against it.


The turning point was the 2010 World Cup final. Blatter, who had previously spoken out against the use of technology in football, was forced to change his mind after Frank Lampard’s long-range effort was ruled out in England’s World Cup second round tie against Germany despite replays showing it was clearly over the line.


In fairness to the 76-year-old, he had previously been open to exploring the idea of technology in football, declaring in 2006 that a system would be used in the game by 'the end of 2007' but his concerns remained that it could upset the rhythm of the game – in the process also ruling out the use of a simple video replay to help referees make decisions.


And it was a demonstration by Hawkeye in 2008, the British company who have since gone on to implement successful systems in both tennis and cricket, that helped form Blatter’s decision not to press on with the use of the technology.


"I do not think, and the Fifa Congress are of the same view, that you can afford to stop the game, and with the camera system Hawkeye showed us, there is a delay in announcing the decision and the situation can change,” Blatter said in 2008, setting back the use of technology for the next two years.


Then came the Lampard goal in South Africa. England were already celebrating drawing the scores level in Bloemfontein when referee Jorge Larrionda shook his head to stun a nation.


Then England boss Fabio Capello was leading the celebration from the bench but was stopped in his tracks as a goal the vast majority of the Free State Stadium had seen cross the line was ruled out. Blatter was forced to concede defeat.


“It is obvious that after the experience so far in this World Cup it would be a nonsense to not reopen the file of technology at the business meeting of the International FA Board in July,” he said soon afterwards.


“I have expressed to them [The FA] apologies and I understand they are not happy and that people are criticising.”


The process of introducing technology


Since then, the wheels have slowly been put into motion over introducing some form of goal line technology. Eight companies initially pitched their ideas for a system, which were tested between November and December of last year.


Hawkeye’s system of using numerous cameras around the stadium to create a digital 3D image of the positioning of the ball – just like their system in tennis (their cricket version uses an element of prediction) – got the green light.


Along with Hawkeye, a German company called GoalRef, were the only other bidders to make it through into the next stage of testing.


Their system entails using a magnetic field in the goal mouth with a specially designed ball that will send a message to the referee that a goal has been scored once the magnetic field has been breached.


FIFA’s own rules dictate that the whole ball must cross the line, while they remain understandably keen to ensure that any technology used is foolproof, setting a criteria of ‘benchmarks’ every company had to meet.


Each of the eight companies that initially pitched for were forced to show that their system would be able to stand up to various real-life situations such as a goal mouth scramble similar to the one at Wembley yesterday, along with other variables like weather – while delivering a decision to the referee in less than a second.


The rigorous testing saw some big names miss out on what could be a very lucrative contract indeed – the Adidas-backed Cairos system, which involved the use of a microchip inserted into the ball, failed because of concerns from FIFA that it would be expensive to put the chip into every one of the thousands of footballs used in top level football around the world.


The final decision


With two very different systems remaining, it would appear we are in the home straight and finally closing on what most football fans have demanded for some time.


Both Hawkeye and GoalRef will be tested before the end of May once more to get a clearer picture of which system works the best. Conceivably, both systems could be given the green light.


There is just one obstacle in the way – the IFAB. Consisting of representatives from FIFA and the four UK football associations, these five orgainsations hold the decision in their hands.


FIFA have four representatives on the board, meaning four individual votes, while the UK associations have one vote each – with six votes needed in order to give goal line technology the green light.


What this effectively means is that it is impossible for FIFA alone to decide on which laws should be passed but equally nothing can be done without their say so.


Although Blatter and the FA have both come out strongly in favour of using technology, it is unclear where the other UK members stand on the issue given potential obstacles such as cost to them and who will foot the bill.


In fact the last time the IFAB met to discuss goal-line technology back in March 2010, both the English FA And Scottish FA voted in favour of its introduction while both the Irish and Welsh FA voted against it, along with FIFA – so the meeting in July is far from a done deal.


Also Michel Platini, head of UEFA and next in line to take over from Blatter at FIFA, may also have an influence on proceedings.


The Frenchman is staunchly against goal-line technology, opting instead to use two extra officials on the goal line in UEFA competitions, a system which has come increasingly under fire as mistakes continue to happen, but one they suggest they could stick with even if IFAB give the go ahead in July.


“Football is the most popular sport in the world because it has simple rules which work everywhere. I consider it nonsense to upset the apple-cart,” Platini said in an interview with German Sunday paper Welt am Sonntag, while Uefa General Secretary Gianni Infantino insisted they were ‘happy’ with the current set up.


What are the cons of goal line technology?


The differences between UEFA, FIFA and the FA mean that the technology is unlikely to be used in Champions League and Europa League, and with so much at stake particularly in the Champions League, it is a real headache for FIFA and other European associations that the most lucrative competition on the continent does not want to use the technology.


Then there is the financial aspect – who would pay for it? In cricket for example, there have been some problems with footing the bill.


Sri Lankan cricket’s governing body suggested the Decision Referral Scheme (DRS) used to review contentious decisions wouldn’t be used for England’s recent tour there because of the cost of implementing the system, leading to the possibility of the same decision being given out in a certain part of the world but not in another – an inconsistency FIFA is keen to avoid.

Although SLC changed their minds, there have been problems in India and South Africa over the systems use with concerns ranging from financial to its accuracy.


If, for example, Manchester United play Accrington Stanley in the FA Cup at the Crown Ground, would the League Two side have to pay for cameras to be installed at great cost? Or would the FA pay thousands to use it at every professional ground in the country or will just the clubs that can afford it (ie the Premier League) have it at their grounds?


Then there are concerns over its accuracy. Hawkeye admitted to a tracking mistake that led to Phil Hughes being given out last year when had the technology worked correctly then the Australian batsman would have been allowed to continue with his innings.


Although Hawkeye had to demonstrate its accuracy in order to make it through to the next stage of testing, can you imagine the uproar if a decision was proved to be wrong in the Premier League or the World Cup?


Overall however, the greatest argument against is the one that suggests it would ruin one of the core beauties of football; the human aspect of the game.


The old cliché goes that decisions even themselves out across a season and it is something that cricket in particular with its traditions and history has struggled to come to terms with and it is something that football will have to let go of with so much at stake in the modern game in order to embrace technology.


When is the soonest it could be used?


With all the pros and cons of goal line technology it is perhaps no surprise the decision over its use has taken such a long time.


The FA and the Premier League in particular have pushed hard for its use and remain confident it will be given the go ahead, with Alex Horne, general secretary of the FA saying he ‘expects’ the members of the IFAB to vote in favour of its use.


If it is passed then it could be implanted, in the Premier League at least, it could be ready to use for next season while FIFA will have one eye on the 2014 World Cup for its first exposure in a major competition. There is little to no chance of the European Championships using technology any time soon.

There is a slight stumbling block with introducing the technology for the 2012/13 Premier League season however. Horne, a keen adovacte ofits use, has admitted it will take about three months to install the winning system in all 20 Premier League grounds, with the just over a month between the July 2nd vote and the start of the new Premier League campaign.

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