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The Future of Refereeing? FIFA Using Ball-Chip Technology for Club World Cup



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For this year’s FIFA Club World Cup, which is currently taking place in Japan, FIFA is testing out new ball-chip technology that lets referees know whether or not the ball crossed the goal line in a scoring situation.

Some may remember the experimental technology used in the Under-17 World Cup in Peru two years ago, where a chip implanted in the ball emitted a radio signal whenever the ball touched the line, which was then relayed to antennas positioned in the corners of the pitch to a computer that sent a message to the referee’s watch.

There was talk that the technology would be used for World Cup 2006 in Germany, but that idea was squashed months before the event, as it was deemed to be not ready for use in a major tournament. But, Adidas and Cairos Technologies AG, who have worked together to develop the balls, have had ample time to completely revamp the technology, and it now fits the requirements it needs to meet to be used in a competitive match.

The chip has been made to withstand the force from the hardest of kicks or any other human action, and it is also not affected by weather, so there are no worries with the chip coming loose or being rendered ineffective by one element or another. One of the issues that occurred when the technology was tested in Peru was the chip not being durable enough to take the hard kicks, and with that issue out of the way, that clears a big hurdle. The chip also sends the confirmation message directly to the referee’s watch in real time, quicker than the previous signal-based chip technology did.

Is this little chip a big deal for the future of football?

Short of instant replay or stationing extra referees on the goal line – an idea that was also in place to be tested at the Club World Cup, but was shelved as it hasn’t received full approval yet, this chip-ball technology is something that football does need in order to minimize the amount of controversy over a particular call. Referees are far from perfect, and despite having multiple officials on the pitch, there are some split-second occurrences that can elude the human eye for a fan watching on television, for the people in the stands, and even for the officials, who have the most up-close and personal view in the house.

Such a chip would have come in handy in that infamous Champions League semi between Liverpool and Chelsea, when Luis Garcia’s shot may or may not have been cleared before it went across the line, but was ruled a goal – the only tally of that second leg at Anfield, which saw Liverpool through to the final. Even in replays, it was difficult to judge whether it had completely crossed the line before William Gallas cleared it, but likely tenfold for the referees who had to make the proper judgment on where the ball was in that split-second before Gallas booted it away.

It also would have kept Mark Clattenburg from looking like a complete idiot after inexplicably not ruling a Pedro Mendes effort a goal in Premiership match between Tottenham and Manchester United in January of 2005. In that case, United keeper Roy Carroll had clearly fumbled the ball over the line and then pushed it back across, but Clattenburg either suffered from a quick bout of standing narcolepsy or was busy daydreaming about Gemma Atkinson.

There are, indeed, some terrible referees and decisions (Andre Marriner, I’m pointing at you!). But, for the most part, you can expect the referee to make the right call, even on the toughest of decisions, but in this case, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have the job made the slightest bit easier.

Similar technology is in use in other sports, most notably tennis, where Cyclops technology has been used for the last three decades to show if a serve is in or out, and recently, the Hawk-eye system, which was initially used for television broadcast replays, has been progressively used in major tennis tournaments, allowing for clarification of close calls, and giving players the ability to challenge whether the ball was in or out. Aside from being used in tennis, it has also been used in cricket and snooker broadcasts, but as of now, tennis is the only sport to actually use the technology for live action purposes.

As sharp as it may be already, the technology being tested at the Club World Cup is, as is the case with any technological advance, not perfect, and will undoubtedly get tweaked more as it sees more use in competitive matches, to be the point where it is as close to being 100% accurate as it needs to be. But, if the chip proves to be a success in this tournament, then it could very well wind up being a part of World Cup 2010, and beyond that, it may well not be long before it’s used on a wider scale.

The next step for FIFA may to be to experiment with the use of video for replays, but it may be a while yet before that happens. The worry about disrupting match flow is a roadblock in that development, but a video instant replay system could be used efficiently and effectively in football if it’s used only for the calls where it’s actually needed. But, this technology is a step in the right direction, and though it won’t be able to turn back the hands of time to overturn or confirm some controversial decisions, a few years from now, it could make the difference on the world’s grandest stage.

What do you think of such technology? Do you think it should see widespread use in domestic, continental, and international competitions? Or, do you think the next step should be instant replay?