Referee Technology – Friend or Foe?

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In this article I’m going to take a look at some of the advances in refereeing technology, and explore the pros and cons of the beautiful game in the digital age. I would love to hear your personal and professional opinions in the comments.

We’ll start with a topic that has been on everyones lips for almost a decade now: goal-line technology.

It’s introduction into the game may only be recent but you’d be hard pushed to argue it has more than proved it’s worth in major competitions, and will be used in all Euro 2016 matches.

Former UEFA president Michael Platini was a staunch opponent of the technology but did allow for it to be reviewed by the board before his ban.

The committee voted yes, but also decided to stick with the more human ‘one extra man behind the goal’ approach, meaning the referee has an abundance of options at their disposal when deciding whether to award a goal.

So how does goal line technology work exactly? There are 14 cameras (7 on each side of the pitch) and the information from them is fed into software that decides in one second whether to allow a goal or not. Pretty impressive stuff!

It is hard to see the disadvantages in goal-line tech as it has so far only given us positive results, it rarely (if ever? Can anyone think of an example?) gets the decision wrong.

I’m sure everyone remembers a game they wish they could go back in time and install these cameras for. Mine would have to be England in the 2010 world cup and ‘that’ Frank Lampard goal!

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Video Refs – will it slow down the game?

Advancing slightly, but not too far removed from the goal-line technology is Video Refereeing. In an interview for Adam Higgins Blog former premier league ref Mark Halsey was in favour, saying “We’ve seen how fantastic goal-line technology has been – there’ve been no arguments, complaints or interferences,”

But will that translate to Video Refereeing?

Of course no player or referee wants incorrect decisions in the game, but those in the no-camp will attest that allowing ‘Video Refs’ onto the field will not only disrupt the flow of the match, but could be one step towards dehumanising the game all together

One of the most famous officials to grace the field, Pierluigi Collina has voiced his support on numerous occasions, saying “Half of the football community cannot understand that a mistake committed by the referee is only committed because he is a human being and cannot see every incident”

We all know referees are only human and can make mistakes, it happens all the time, but is that just part of the drama that we have come to love and cherish about football? Do we like to shout in the stands or at the television?

To be clear, video refereeing will not be used for all instances on the pitch, only the big decisions such as goals, red cards and penalties. So do we have to worry too much about the flow of the game being disrupted?

On a great post by the Dutch Referee Blog, we see that a video assistant can make a call in 6 seconds. Can you make the correct call in that time?

What some find strange is that the technology to see the decisions seconds after the event is already accessible.

From a personal (biased) view-point I was heart-broken to see my beloved Liverpool lose out in the Europa League final after what seemed to me like three stone-wall handball penalty decisions not awarded. The fans at home (or in the pub where I was), even in the stadium could see the replay within seconds, what goes through a referees mind after they can view a bad decision on the big screen immediately after? Do we just avert our eyes?

The jury still seems to be out on the whole debate, but open to experimenting with caution, with FIFA president Gianni Infantino saying in March “We cannot close our eyes to the future but it doesn’t mean to say it will work. The flow of the game is crucial. We cannot put that in danger. That is why we have to be open to test.”

There’s a great article from Silicon Republic HERE that really goes deep into both sides of this particular subject.

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Referee Apps for Smartwatches – will they become the norm for all refs?

Last but by no means least is the introduction of wearable technology for Referees, to make their life easier on the pitch and to actually help the flow of the game. The recent release of GOREF currently for Apple Watch but coming to Android soon, could prove to be a real game changer for officials at all levels. With the abilities to input all player details before the game, log goals, fouls, yellow and red cards and substitutions (and of course keep the time!) all in one app on one device. Future updates will be able to track the referees health & fitness stats and ground covered during the game, which is vital in today’s increasingly demanding matches.

Having a resource like GOREF would also make sure we don’t see such errors as awarding 3 yellow cards to the same player in the same match (as Graham Poll famously did in the Australia v Croatia game of the 2006 World Cup)

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These mistakes happen very rarely but why run the risk at all? With such technology available all a ref would have to worry about was brandishing the actual cards themselves, though it has been discussed as to whether they are even necessary anymore!

Even more Sci-Fi than that is the possible introduction of Google Glass for referees where referees can instantly view replays in their headsets!

So, should we live in fear that the beautiful game will end up being run by robots? Or are we luddites that need to embrace the technology and work with the machines to create a fairer experience for players & referees, and a less heart-attack inducing match for the fans?

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