This week Fifa announced the introduction of the much-demanded technology following nine months of testing, but will it lead to a two-tier footballing system?
By Keir Radnedge
Football’s embrace of goal-line technology, courtesy of the lawmaking International Football Association Board, has more public relations than practical value in the short term. This is because the installation of GLT is more complex than its simplistic supporters credit.
Indeed, it may even be that the IFAB’s largely overlooked decision to approve the ‘safe’ headscarf for Muslim women players has a wider effect on the development and perception of the game right across the Middle East.
Fifa’s own Club World Cup, in Japan in December, will be the first public outing for two systems which emerged triumphant from the rigorous testing process undertaken by the Swiss technology institute EMPA.
The systems are camera-based Hawkeye – a name already familiar in the worlds of top-level tennis and cricket – and the German/Danish GoalRef collaboration; the latter system is sensor-based.
Fifa is planning also to use goal-line technology in Brazil at the Confederations Cup next summer and then at the World Cup finals in 2014.
It could also use the five-officials system – which was also approved after three years of experimentation in European club competitions, Morocco, France and Brazil. As Alex Horne, general secretary of England’s Football Association, has pointed out, the systems fulfil different tasks.
Thus Uefa president Michel Platini – an avowed opponent of all technology not only the goal-line version – has won a significant consolation. The role of the goal-line assistants is aimed far more at improving ‘penalty box behaviour’ than checking the goal-line.
To that extent the Euro 2012 incident in the Ukraine-England game – when Marko Devich’s shot was hooked back into play from behind the goal line by John Terry – was unfortunate. The manner in which the incident played in the media suggested that GLT and the five-officials system are in conflict: they are not.
Indeed Fifa could use both systems at the 2014 World Cup finals.
Any league or federation which wishes to use a GLT system should go direct to the companies to negotiate installation time and price, maintenance costs etc. Each individual stadium installation would need to undergo a Fifa-quality test before being approved for ‘match action.’
These are the practical considerations preventing the enthusiastically supportive Premier League from rushing in from the start of the new season. However FA secretary Horne has suggested it might be possible to launch by next season’s mid-point.
One essential factor of the system is that it must be used by every team in a competition. This is why it will not be seen in the Champions League for a very long time. Only the wealthy leagues – England, Germany, Italy and Spain – can afford the costs and their clubs represent only a small minority of the number of clubs in European competitions.
Platini’s opposition to goal-line technology is based on his fear that this is a slippery slope: that its introduction will encourage demands for the further encroachment of technology into another sphere of the match such as penalties and offsides.
He may be proved right in time – though all the IFAB representatives insisted that technology stops with this one particular fact-focused issue of whether the ball has crossed the goal line.
But this is an argument for another day. Right now football can pride itself on a decision - taken after much thought and testing and a great deal of care – which both supports referees and enhances the game’s over-arching concern for the concept of fair play.