FIFA. They really are the masters at changing their stance on an issue, taking ownership of it, and complimenting themselves on their new stance.
Please don’t misunderstand me. It’s a compliment. There are some clever operators in and around the Zurich HQ.
Blatter’s nifty footwork to become a racism trailblazer after his horrible gaffe to me in 2011 is one example.
But the u-turn in the spotlight recently has been goal-line technology. FIFA moved the goalposts and I have a confession. I am perfecting my own shift in opinion on the matter to mirror FIFA’s.
I’ll spare you the backstory. You know it off by heart. FIFA reluctant, Blatter opposed to technology, provisional tests, more opposition, high profile cases of ‘ghost goals’ applying the pressure, more reluctance…and then Lampard v Germany, 2010 World Cup.
And so a new English Premier League season kicked off with goal line technology proudly in use. Goal Defence System, developed by the Hawk-Eye company after its success in tennis and cricket.
While understanding the Premier League’s eagerness to put technology in place, and their financial clout to do so, I have been lukewarm on technology in football. One of the few areas I have sympathised with Michel Platini.
His much-criticised view is that once technology has been advanced in football in this way, where do things stop? What about the push in the penalty area before the ball crosses the line – where is the technology for that etc? And ultimately what does it mean for referees.
Potential support for Platini’s view has come in the form of cricket’s technological problems. While Hawk-Eye has been blameless, other innovations – such as ‘Hotspot’ – have left margins of error. The very margins that have perhaps surprisingly left German football behind the revolution for once. Their reservations means it won’t come in to the Bundesliga until 2015 at the earliest – though having suffered a big wrong decision on the opening day which cried out for the technology.
And there has been a warning from the sport of Hurling in Ireland of all things.
They use a Hawk-Eye system but had to suspend it before the All-Ireland final. The reason was an error in the ‘minor’ game that proceeded the final. While the graphic showed the ball was inside the post, the screen said MISS and the referee declared the ball wide. An investigation has taken pace but in the unlikely event of any complacency from the technical wizards…this was a reminder that technology CAN go wrong.
So what eased my own reservations?
Well having reported on the subject for a few years I was sent to the Emirates Stadium for a pre-season demonstration. (http://www.aljazeera.com/sport/football/2013/08/2013815223349889802.html)
Yes, I knew the decision would quick, I knew it has been exhaustively tested, I knew the system of a referee wearing a watch was highly sophisticated technology made very simple.
But actually wearing the watch and seeing Hawk-Eye work would make further scepticism churlish. There is undoubtedly an element of genius in the systems of Paul Hawkins, setting high standards which three other FIFA licenses companies are also having to meet. It will be the German company GoalControl providing the system for the World Cup in Brazil next year.
31 English Premier League incidents last season would have used the GDS system but I wondered if it really is value for money. Well, that one incident per week can be crucial. Who could fail to be impressed by its use in denying a third goal v Hull on the opening weekend. It may not have been a match deciding moment but it COULD have been.
Yes I was being eased over the line now on why it makes sense. Why not get these decisions right and if other decisions are wrong then that’s a separate issue. At least this part of the game is covered.
The crowd and television viewers get to see what happened quickly too. Though without the drama of other sports when the trajectory of the ball is met with ooos and aaaahs.
My two further issues with GLT were both dealt with after I took the ref’s watch off and the demonstrations were over.
Firstly, why should such obvious human errors lead to expensive technology? I put it to Mike Riley of the English Match Officials that there were only two high profile incidents I wasn’t immediately sure of, and remain clueless as to whether they were actually a goal. Geoff Hurst’s World Cup final goal (you don’t hear that mentioned much!) and Andy Carroll’s effort for Liverpool in the 2011 Cup final v Chelsea. Ruled out, probably correctly, but very hard to tell for sure.
I added that that the officiating at the England v Germany game was nothing short of a disgrace, and FIFA knew it. If you couldn’t tell that was way over the line you shouldn’t be in the job.
But Riley hit back – reminding me that my view on a TV screen was far superior and the officials had plenty else going on. Both very fair points.
Secondly why should FIFA bring in something for the haves – leaving the have nots without technology? Alex Horne of the English FA, who have been instrumental in their push for technology via their IFAB influence and are using it alongside the Premier League, made an excellent point. The cost of technology usually comes down. In fact it can plummet.
If I was at FIFA I’d only feel really pleased with myself – pleased enough to tweet of their pride, when Goal Line Technology is used at big domestic events in Africa and Asia.
And will there be a technology fail at some point, a big controversy? The hurling incident suggests it cannot be 100% failsafe.
Lee Wellings is the Sports Correspondent for Al Jazeera English based in London. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Lee on twitter @LeeW_Sport