Home and Away: Why wait? Besieged refs need benefit of the 'third eye'

Video technology could ensure this is the last annus horribilis officials are forced to endure

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 March, 2015, 10:31pm
UPDATED : Friday, 06 March, 2015, 10:31pm

Football debates around the water cooler on Monday morning will be in short supply as the English Premier League takes the weekend off. But there is an issue that rages continuously: should technology's third eye be introduced to clear up foul play or wrong decisions during game time?

Instant video replays during match time should hand back power and respect to officials who are having an annus horribilis

Video replays have long divided football and many remain sceptical, but even diehard luddites find their resistance crumbling as the number of indiscretions rise.

Goal-line technology is seen as a success, so why not extend it to contested penalty-area incidents or red-card offences, goes the argument.

Over the past week, we have seen officials and players either get things horribly wrong or miss key moments completely. At Old Trafford, the referee did not know who had committed a foul and another at Stoke City forgot what a foul was.

Stoke's Stephen Ireland needed 10 stitches for a wound sustained in a shocking, potentially career-wrecking tackle by Hull's Maynor Figueroa - a felony ref Neil Swarbrick did not even consider worthy of a booking. And Sunderland's Wes Brown had the red card brandished by official Roger East rescinded on appeal after the ref dismissed the wrong player.

Both incidents could have been corrected instantly with the benefit of video evidence.

Then midweek there was the disgraceful spitting between Newcastle striker Papiss Cisse and Manchester United defender Jonny Evans. That diabolical behaviour could have been picked up there and then and seen the players sent off.

That would have sent a message to all watching - children especially - that such primitive behaviour will never be tolerated.

Granted, the players are likely to be punished retrospectively after the FA viewed the television coverage, but the impact of zero tolerance has been lost on impressionable youngsters.

Crucially, instant video replays during match time should hand back power and respect to officials who, let's be honest, are having an annus horribilis.

The impact of zero tolerance has been lost on impressionable youngsters

We can all forgive human error and the bloopers make our game the most talked about sport. Indeed, the controversies are what makes the game such a talking point.

But allowing human failings to dictate the outcome of games when so much is at stake in an age where technology has the ability to ensure fairness and uphold the spirit of competition, is plain daft.

Those watching at home have the perfect view thanks to scores of cameras, yet the referee may have just made a 30-metre dash keeping pace with elite athletes - and even then may have two or three other players obscuring their view at the decisive moment.

Crucially, technology must not be seen to undermine the ref. The danger lies in believing video technology is a panacea for the ills of the game, from diving players to myopic referees.

And while it has helped other sports it has also created new challengers and controversy. The recent Cricket World Cup game between England and Australia ended in farce because not one of the umpires knew the rules on video use.In rugby union, some claim many refs have lost the bottle to rely on their experience and authority to call a decision, and instead pass nearly every try to the television match officials, giving the impression they seek guidance rather than rule.

Rugby was cited by Fifa general secretary Jerome Valcke this week for one reason to put off for another season technology trials.

"If the referee just relies on information he is getting, is there a risk he becomes not as strong and always asks for confirmation?" Valcke asked during the International Football Association Board annual rule-making meeting.

And there's the crux. If and when video technology is used in football, it must be called upon only when absolutely necessary.

The Dutch FA has been conducting a system where the ref is helped by an official watching live TV coverage and instant replays.

The Dutch say they can know in a matter of seconds if an infringement has been made and get that information quickly to the referee.

If and when video technology is used in football, it must be called upon only when absolutely necessary

If this was used only for a strict criteria of play - those "WTF moments" as one pundit put it - and the video evidence relayed in a matter of seconds, then the flow of the game would not be impeded any more than it is by players and managers arguing with decisions, or refs holding lengthy consultations with their assistants.

If the Dutch are correct, wouldn't video use afford us more playing time and fairness to boot? Let's discuss it.