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Football’s shift to technology could have negative effects on the game



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Let’s face it, the game of football is a high-pressure affair. Throw in two clubs playing a local derby or a must-win match, a crowd full of supporters going absolutely mental and a ball and you have yourself a potential recipe for disaster.

That’s not to say that every match between rival clubs or nations is like this, but you can be damn sure that there’s a good chance things could go overboard if the match official makes a critical ruling that one side very unhappy. And if, as it has been in some cases, that the ruling changes the outcome of the game, the referee better watch himself, because a firestorm is probably coming his way.

Such a ruling on the football pitch usually sparks a public debate that can lead to said match official being questioned to such an extent that the lives of the referee/linesman involved are in danger. England’s Euro 2004 quarter-final tie against Portugal fits the bill, as it was marred by controversy when Sol Campbell’s seemingly winning goal was ruled out by a foul on Ricardo, the Portuguese goalkeeper.

The referee at the time, Urs Meier, who overruled his linesman to cancel out Campbell’s late effort has since received threats against his life by outraged England supporters. The Swiss official received more than 16,000 abusive emails and was subsequently given police protection and sent into hiding for a week, away from his wife and children. The decision effectively knocked England out of the European Championships and gave the host nation a semi-final place that ultimately led to spot in the final against Greece. The clear argument is that a basic form of technology such as that used in the Rugby Union would have provided the game with a different result and England with their first semi-final since 1996.

The idea that the introduction of technology in football would aid the referees and their assistants in making the correct decision is a largely disputed issue, with people far greater than I having differing opinions. Governing bodies though seems to be doing their best to rid the sporting world of human error, with Hawk-Eye being a prime example.

With Cricket seemingly struggling to strike a balance between human and machine decisions, is it likely that the world of sport is going to have to choose between the two. What though are the reasons for introducing a system that could clarify a decision one way or another? From Geoff Hurst’s second and England’s third goal in the 1966 World Cup final and Diego Maradona’s famous ‘Hand of God’ in 1986, to more recent examples such as Pedro Mendes’s infamous lob against Man United, there has always been a demand for change.

There has always been a cry for justice from those whom the decision does not favour, but bitterness aside, many of the fans would argue against a technology that would be so conclusive. For generations, the decisions of match officials have united the world’s population in conversation. The arguments provide us with something to discuss over a drink at the pub, and gives the so-called professionals that appear to be more qualified than us something to talk about at half-time on the TV.

Although it seems the English usually bare the brunt of dismal decisions, the Spanish too have every right to feel aggrieved about poor calls that will live long in the memory of all involved. The Spaniards have terrible luck in major international tournaments, dating back to USA ’94 when Italy’s Mauro Tassotti’s inexplicably elbowed Luis Enrique  and went unpunished. The decision, coupled with Spain’s play, eliminated them from the competition.

The fact that Tassotti later received an 8 match ban was of no consolation to Spain. The nation’s bad luck continues, in 2002 the Spanish were knocked out by host nation South Korea on penalties despite scoring 2 legitimate goals in the ninety minutes of normal time. Both goals were wrongly disallowed, the most controversial was Fernando Morientes’s headed strike that was ruled out as the linesman saw winger Joaquin dribble the ball out of play before crossing for the clinical striker…no-one else did. This is yet another incident that could have been different if there was a form of technology available to officials.

All this being said, would half of these matches and incidents still be lodged firmly in the memory of football fans across the world had these decisions been correct? The answer is almost certainly, NO. The simple fact is that injustice in football is not something that can be seen as wholly negative. It would be inaccurate to expect officials under such pressure to arrive at the correct verdict every time, and the fact that they so clearly don’t provides yet another dimension to a sport that has such a fantastic history.

By getting rid of the ref and introducing technology you would change the beautiful game as we know it. But would it be a change for the better? I don’t think so.