After years of foot-dragging, goalline technology – supported by the majority of fans, players, managers and even referees – moved a vital step forward yesterday, although not before the season after next, not in the Premier League at least.
Despite opposition from the likes of Uefa's president, Michel Platini, football's lawmakers approved "optional not obligatory" technology in principle, with the final green light almost certain to be given at a specially arranged follow-up meeting the day after this summer's European Championship final in Kiev.
Although the first system could be in place in Fifa competitions by the end of this year – and definitely by the 2013 Confederations Cup and the 2014 World Cup – it will take longer to be implemented by Europe's leagues and clubs.
At its annual meeting, The International FA Board (IFAB) approved final tests on two systems to make sure they are foolproof: British company Hawkeye – widely used already in cricket and tennis – and GoalRef, a German-Danish firm. Six other systems were deemed too unreliable and scrapped.
The Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, has been a reluctant convert to technology ever since the international outcry over Frank Lampard's disallowed goal in the 2010 World Cup second round tie against Germany. Others like Platini and Germany's Franz Beckenbauer, who heads Fifa's Task Force on ways of improving the game, favour the alternative system of two extra goalline assistants, used in all major European international competitions this season. There is now a serious chance of both systems ending up operating side by side in what is surely a case of overkill.
If and when implemented, a private signal will be sent to the referee within a second of the ball crossing the line, a key factor in implementation. While Fifa would like to employ goalline technology for the Club World Cup in Japan in December, the FA general secretary, Alex Horne, said the Premier League had to take its time. "I would doubt it," Horne replied when asked if next season was realistic. "You would need to wait until July for the decision, then go through procurement and installation of equipment for 20 clubs in five weeks. That's unlikely, because it is not a one-day job. It feels like a tall order but we expect that, provided one or more systems fulfil the critera and are shown to be robust and reliable in terms of accuracy, we will pass it into Law on 2 July."
Whether smaller leagues could afford goalline technology, at least at current prices, is questionable and Horne accepted that this also applied to lower-league clubs in competitions like the FA Cup. "We have to think about it locally in terms of whether it is enforced in an entire competition or at specific entry points. I don't think we could force 763 clubs to introduce it."
The ultra-conservative IFAB, comprising Fifa and the four home associations, rarely if ever reverses its decisions. But they had a change of heart when making an exception by lifting the ban on the Islamic headscarf being worn by women players, pending final ratification at the July Special Meeting of IFAB. Fifa executive committee member Prince Ali of Jordan had led the campaign to overturn the hijab ban on safety grounds and gave a persuasive demonstration of new zipless Velcro-designed headscarves deemed 100 per cent safe.
Approval was also granted to the FA's proposal to have a two-year experiment on rolling substitutes in amateur football. Horne said this was hugely significant in terms of bringing more grass-roots players into the game.
A recommendation by Fifa to allow a fourth substitute to be used in extra-time was thrown out due to lack of support but lawmakers did agree that players red-carded for denying a goalscoring opportunity should not necessarily be banned.