Comment: Technology changes the game, and in the case of a TV monitor to help the referee, it would be a change for the better... just ask Andre Marriner
Crossbars and nets were technological enhancements that improved the game
We live in an age that permits same-sex marriages, that is poised to demolish the lingering barriers to female membership at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club after 260 years: surely it is not beyond us to push the button on the use of increased technology in football.
The widespread resistance from bright people to the use of technological aids that might assist referees in any way possible renews classic tensions between the certainties of the known versus the uncertainties of the new.
The Viking community was once split over those who wanted to sail west in search of new treasures and those who wanted to return to the familiar hunting grounds to the east. A few brave souls pushed on against prevailing thinking and fell across England, bringing to the locals, after a bloody start, a new way of doing business.
And how grateful, after their world had been utterly reshaped, were the flat earth community for the scientific contributions of Copernicus, who confirmed in the first half of the 16th century what the ancient Greeks had first believed, that we walked not on a level playing field but a sphere.
Football’s machine-breakers continue to rail against change, claiming it would fundamentally alter the game as we know it. Richard Scudamore, the chief executive of the Premier League, was the latest to express this view over the weekend.
It wouldn’t do anything of the sort. It would simply improve the efficiency of the decision-making.
What is so great about mistakes made by referees that the present system should be preserved? The point surely is that we reach the correct decision. What possible objection could there be to that?
Had Andre Marriner had access to a third eye in a control room with monitors, he would have been able to identify Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as Arsenal’s ad hoc goalkeeper at Chelsea last week and even determine the colour of the appropriate card. The idea that this would force an unacceptable break in play is nonsense.
The problem is resolved in seconds for TV viewers, who are bombarded with coverage from all angles. Marriner could have been advised of the truth that escaped him in real time before the ball had been thrown back into play and Kieran Gibbs would not have been sent off.
The idea of a review system to allow managers to challenge decisions is a red herring. The referee’s authority remains inviolable. The technology is not there for managers and coaches to contest decisions but for referees to do their job.
Yes, football might never be the same. It might be better. Since the sport seems incapable of curing itself of the appalling treatment by players and managers of referees and the abhorrent culture of dissent that feeds it, the appropriation of technology would remove at a stroke the justification of the complainants.
No more would the gum-chewing ranter on the touchline be justified in his puerile attacks. The whole post-match discourse would shift. No longer would coaches and players be justified in diverting responsibility for goals conceded from their own shoulders to the officials.
The old Luddites in power are, as ever, slow to react. The conservative reflex that binds them, the resistance to change for fear of losing something essential from the game, damages rather than protects football’s integrity. Where might the game be if those old reactionaries at Blackheath had had their way in 1863 when the Football Association at birth rid the ancient sport of the hacking tackle? Rugby is where.
The introduction of crossbars to replace tape and nets attached to the goal frame were 19th-century technological enhancements that improved the game by making it easier to establish that a goal had been scored. Now we have the Goal Decision System in the Premier League, and who would argue that that bit of kit has not taken the story on?
Technology’s opponents labour under the delusion that the essential nature of the game changes with its introduction. Not so. As long as technology remains in the employ of the referee, then nothing changes since absolute authority rests with him.
But what about the breaks in play? My guess is it would take the referee less time to establish clarity via a link to a colleague in the control centre than it would to bring order to the cast of baying dogs snapping at his heels protesting one case or another.
Technology is all around, at the service of the audience at home, explaining in high definition the rights and wrongs of decisions. It ought to be at the disposal of the referee, just as in rugby and cricket, bringing into sharp relief detail beyond the capacity of the naked eye to register. Breaks in play in those examples enhance rather than kill the drama. So let’s kill the objections and switch on to the modern era.
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