Football had explicitly shunned the use of technology for the longest time. In a game controlled by three referees, the need to use video evidence to run the game more accurately got flak from several quarters. However, after an increasing number of refereeing howlers, doubtful decisions and iffy scenarios, FIFA finally bowed down to technology. The 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil is the first in which goal-line technology (GLT) has been used to cut out refereeing errors.
How does it work?
GoalControl, a German company, beat out four competitors in the run-up to the World Cup and its system of GLT is in force in the month-long football extravaganza. GoalControl’s system utilises 14 high-speed cameras — seven on each goal — that take full-frame, full-colour images at a rate of 500 frames a second. The captured images are relayed to a computer which create a three-dimensional grab automatically cutting out players and the referee. If the ball has indeed crossed the goal line, the message is instantly relayed to the referee’s watch, which vibrates to catch his attention. GoalControl is estimated to cost $260,000 per stadium and an additional $3,900 per game.
First instance of usage
In the 48th minute of the France vs Honduras game on June 15, as Frenchman Karim Benzema bombed down the flank into the opposition’s penalty area, the packed Estadio Beira-Rio waited in anticipation. Benzema thumped his drive towards the far post. The ball first bounced off the goal post and then on to the back of the Honduran goalkeeper. As the crowd groaned with disappointment over the missed chance, referee Sandro Ricci’s watch gave out a sharp vibration.
The crowd had no idea that the ball had gone over the goal line, putting France two goals ahead. Initially, it looked as if Benzema had got his second of the night, but the ball was adjudged to have come off the goalie’s back, thus being awarded as an own-goal.
Though FIFA president Sepp Blatter initially dismissed the use of technology before the 2010 World Cup as something which was only 95 percent accurate, the rise in 50-50 calls seem to have forced his hand. However, following Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal during England’s 4-1 loss to Germany, he announced FIFA would be looking into the options available. There are still a number of arguments for keeping football and technology apart. What if it ruins the natural rhythm of a game? Will the technology always get it right? Is it worth the expense? Though chances of human error have been removed, even GLT has a margin of error as it measures correctly within a plus-minus margin of 1.5 centimetres.
Technology in other sports
The process of video referrals is already in use in other sports. Cricket has the Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS). Tennis, cricket and snooker also utilise HawkEye, a system similar to GoalControl. In cricket, umpires use HawkEye to judge LBW decisions. Infra-red cameras are also commonly used to detect heat signatures, known as HotSpot. Tennis uses ball-tracking to check contentious line calls, with players given the option of challenging the linesman’s call thrice.