Refereeing errors revive debate on technology in football

A goal to England that was hardly noticed, and a blatant offside that let Argentina cement their lead over Mexico – could these obviously bad decisions be avoided through the use of technology, as in cricket, rugby and tennis?


Two obvious refereeing mistakes in the first knockout round of the World Cup on Sunday have reignited the debate on the use of technology to help arbitrate tough decisions during games.  

On Sunday England were knocked out in a humiliating 4-1 drubbing by Germany, while Mexico were beaten 3-1 by Argentina.
Both games were marred by obvious refereeing mistakes that may well have changed the course of the tournament.
In the 38th minute of the England-Germany game, a powerful shot by England striker Frank Lampard hit the top goalpost, bounced down well into the goalmouth, then rebounded out into the hands of the German keeper.
The validity of the “goal” was obvious to everyone who saw the replays on television, but not to Uruguayan touch judge Jorge Larrionda who let the game carry on.
Trailing 2-1, the extra point would have seen England equalise, although the British press on Monday was so appalled at the quality of play that no one suggested an equaliser would have saved England’s humiliation.
But, it was an obvious goal in a game which, unlike some sports such as tennis, cricket and even rugby, relies entirely on the judgement of referees on the ground.
During the Mexico-Argentina game a similar situation unfolded. Argentinean striker Carlos Tevez was very obviously offside when he scored from a ball passed by Lionel Messi.
The Mexican players appealed the goal, but a discussion between the referee and his touch judges nevertheless upheld the decision to allow it.
British PM joins the debate
Arsenal trainer Arsene Wenger, talking on French television channel TFI after the game, said: “What is so dreadful about these situations is that the main referee will often know perfectly well that he has made the wrong decision, but if the touch judge tells him there was no offside, he is obliged to allow the goal.”
Even British Prime Minister David Cameron weighed in to the debate at the beginning of the current G20 conference in Canada, suggesting that he would support the use of cameras in football.
"I do think that the use of technology in sport can be a bonus," he said. "I'm a keen follower of cricket and tennis and I think the third umpire [in cricket, an umpire off the pitch who reviews television footage] has been a great thing and the machines that bleep at Wimbledon are quite handy too.”
"Maybe that's something that football could now have a look at," he added.
FIFA the only stumbling block
For World Cup organisers FIFA, however, all use of technology to arbitrate decisions is banned.
Former England captain Alan Shearer, talking on BBC television in the half time interval of the England-Germany game, said FIFA was the only stumbling block to introducing technology to the game.
“Everyone, all the ex-professionals, all the current managers, the super-managers, the superstars, every single person is calling for goal line technology in football. All except for one person at FIFA.”
The man Shearer does not name is FIFA chairman Sepp Blatter, who has always been opposed to video refereeing. In January 2010, it looked like he may have changed his mind, suggesting he would not oppose technology if it could be proved to be practicable.
“I’m not completely against it,” he said at the time, despite adding that no technology would be ready by the World Cup 2010.
In March, the International Football Association Board, which oversees the rules of the game, looked at two systems - including cameras mounted on goalposts and an electronic chip in the ball - and decided not to integrate these innovations into the rules of the game.
The case for technology in refereeing remains very much at square one.


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