The Rational Ref

English Premier League's video technology will help referees

New system to be showcased in England will help referees and bring fair play to football

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 August, 2013, 3:15am

The world's most popular league kicks off this weekend across England and Wales, and will be beamed to 1.5 billion fans around the globe - a third of the total estimated worldwide population aged between 16 and 69. These fans will be glued to their screens for the fantastically packaged digital video product called the English Premier League.

In the modern era, continued advances in video technology have allowed fans to scrutinise and re-examine every single player incident, referee decision and game-changing event from the comfort of their own armchairs. It seems almost nothing escapes capture and analysis. Even off-the-ball incidents, which match officials cannot be expected to always see, are captured and critiqued by the all-seeing cameras. Some argue that this makes refereeing even harder than in the past because match officials will never to be able to observe as much, or in as much detail, as today's sophisticated, high-speed cameras that are dotted around every professional club's stadium. This disconnect between what the human eye sees at ground level and what the camera lens observes from above the pitch is the problem.

But Rational Ref thinks otherwise. Given the correct implementation, support structure and respect to match officials, the use of cameras can actually help with refereeing matters. In fact, video technology can and should be used to help bring justice and a sense of fair play to the game, and hence protect its image.

This season, two significant changes along these lines promise to help professional referees in the EPL perform better, make consistent decisions, and ultimately ensure effective management and control of players throughout the long, gruelling and challenging season.

These two changes are the introduction of goal-line technology - now officially called the goal decision system (GDS) - and a new review panel that includes three former referees who will look at video evidence to make retrospective sanctions if needed.

The FA, with the blessing of Fifa, but notably not Uefa, decided to implement the GDS in all 380 EPL games this season. It will also be used at FA Cup games where the stadiums have the equipment, as well as for England matches at Wembley. So far, only clubs in the Premier League are required to have the GDS, which has set-up costs of £250,000 (HK$3 million) plus unspecified operating expenses.

The Hawk-Eye GDS comprises 14 cameras that operate at 320 frames per second. This means even if a player blocks the view of the ball at a crucial time and space, mathematical computations can still be made to pinpoint the ball's position relative to the goal line.

Its use at the professional level is a positive development for referees, because imagine the abuse match officials face if a goal is missed, or even controversially given when the whole of the ball has not crossed over the line, on account of human judgement. Since it is a matter of fact - not a matter of opinion - whether or not the ball has crossed the line, why leave it to human judgement?

By allowing modern technology to make this crucial fact-based decision, there is one less thing to criticise match officials for. It helps referees perform better secure in the knowledge that a crucial decision will be made accurately, and therefore ensures effective match management.

Those who argue against GDS during high-profile, highly competitive and high-premium competitions - most prominently Uefa president Michel Platini and Manchester United player Rio Ferdinand - have little to stand on. We are not talking about grass-roots level, but professional, prominent and top level soccer with billions of fans watching and expecting justice.

The other new system in the EPL is the FA's review panel, which is amended to include former referees to help when needed. This change is likely to have been triggered by Newcastle United's denouncement last season of the FA's disciplinary process, calling it "not fit for purpose". This after Wigan player Callum McManaman's dreadful challenge on United's Massadio Haidara, which controversially was not reviewed on account of a technicality.

That technicality being: "Where one of the officials has seen a coming together of players, no retrospective action should be taken, regardless of whether he or she witnessed the full or particular nature of the challenge. This is to avoid the re-refereeing of incidents."

So, from this season, for "coming together of player" incidents and even if at least one match official witnesses the incident, the FA's review panel can take retrospective action. It defies belief that the FA review panel will not apply this same principle to diving, or simulation as it is properly called.

Taking retrospective action can appear counterintuitive, especially since every player, coach and fan is taught "the referee's decision is final". While this is absolutely true during the match, if we accept the fact (not opinion!) that referees are human and are not infallible then retrospective action is beneficial. First, through no fault of the match officials who always try their utmost to make the best possible decisions during a game, taking retrospective action ensures justice will be, and seen to be, done. Second, players and coaches will now know in advance that if they purposely engage in dirty, unsporting behaviour with the aim of deceiving referees, they will eventually be caught and sanctioned.

Therefore, with the acceptance this season of video technology such as GDS and post-match reviews in taking retrospective action, match officials can continue to perform to the best of their abilities, safe in the knowledge that there is a support system in place that will ultimately help them protect the image of the game.

Agree or disagree? Contact Rational Ref at rationalref@gmail.com