Fifa ponders hi-tech balls but still refuses to embrace the video age

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The Independent Football

As Fifa, football's world governing body, confirmed yesterday that it is developing a "revolutionary" microchip-embedded ball to eliminate goal-line controversies, The Independent has learned that Premier League indifference scuppered the adoption of a similar innovation five years ago.

The issue of technology in the game has been thrown back into sharp focus in the wake of Tuesday's debacle at Old Trafford, where Tottenham were denied a winning goal despite Pedro Mendes' shot clearly crossing the line. The incident led to rapid and widespread appeals, including from Sir Alex Ferguson, Martin Jol and Arsène Wenger, for the introduction of video replays.

Fifa and the Football Association yesterday made it clear that neither will countenance using video technology to deal with such situations.

Yet both acknowledged that they would consider alternative, non-television technologies.

Fifa then announced that a technical proposal for a new ball, which is being designed by adidas, will be unveiled, in private, at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium on 26 February, the day before the Carling Cup final.

The proposal will be part of a presentation at the AGM of the International Football Association Board, the body that oversees the laws of the game. Contrary to reports, there is no chance that the ball, which is still in development, will be used in the final. "A demonstration of the system is also planned at a time and place yet to be decided," Fifa said yesterday.

According to the official agenda of the IFAB meeting: "adidas believe that the new ball is a revolution in optimising the referee [sic] decision and not comparable with any other existing system."

Intriguingly, the agenda refers to a "a new technical and design concept of ball type, with a sample of the official match ball of the 2006 Fifa World Cup."

Fifa would not confirm if the ball, which is being designed to instantaneously let referees know when it has crossed the line, has any chance of being in widespread use as soon as the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany. If that proved to be the case, it would only be appropriate, adidas being founded by a German, Adi Dassler.

Markus Siegler, Fifa's director of communications, said that any new technology would have to be used on a trial basis first, and that it was highly unlikely any change to the laws of the game would be made this year.

"There is one annual meeting of the board every year," he said. "Only at this meeting can any changes to the laws of the game be decided. I do not think that after one presentation or one [trial] that a very quick decision will be taken because this is a crucial matter."

Adidas's device is so secret that only a few technicians in Germany know what it involves. It is thought, however, that a microchip in the ball sends signals to detectors near the goalmouth, but not necessarily within the goalposts, to determine its exact position. Such a system - which works like a global positioning system - would avoid the main pitfall of video evidence, namely someone or something (like mud) getting in the way. Adidas declined to comment on industry whispers that it might cost £250,000 per stadium.

Fifa has long been interested in exploring goalline technology. Indeed in 1999 it went as far as backing a project being pioneered by the ball manufacture Mitre in conjunction with a British technology company, Sports Control Systems.

Fifa granted sole permission to the English FA to trial "smart ball" technology. The FA handed that permission to the Premier League.

According to Mitre and SCS, they developed a ball that carried a "chemical marker" in its skin, which triggered a signalling device when it passed wholly through a "forcefield" detector across the goal face. In laymen's terms, it worked much as an airport security detector.

"We proved it worked," Gary Bradford, the chief executive of SCS, said yesterday. "It took us more than a year in development, we demonstrated it, we tested it, and the Premier League couldn't fault it. We even had backer willing to finance it, but the Premier League could not guarantee it would be rolled out and we were forced to shelve it."

A spokesman for the Premier League was unable to confirm yesterday why the project, which was supported by Philip Don, then the head of refereeing, had been ditched.

Mitre is still interested in developing the technology although it lacks access to football's key corridors of power. Adidas is the official matchball provider for Fifa, and Nike has succeeded Mitre as the official supplier to the Premier League.

One thing is clear. Neither the FA nor Fifa will look to video technology. "Fifa is strongly against the use of video evidence," Siegler said. The rationale is that it is fallible. Either it works perfectly, every time, or it is no good.

The FA concurs, and says that technology that delays the game is unacceptable. "The key factor is whether a message can be transmitted immediately to the referee allowing him to take an immediate decision without interrupting play," it said.

A variety of FAs, including Ireland and Italy, support video evidence, as does the FA's new chief executive, Brian Barwick - in contrast to his new organisation's current official stance. But while Fifa's president, Sepp Blatter, remains opposed - and he is staunchly opposed - there is no chance of it happening.

Rob Lewis, the linesman who failed to spot Mendes' "goal", said he had no regrets yesterday, despite admitting he made the wrong decision.

"I pride myself on being relatively fast over a short distance but by the time the ball landed, I was still 25 yards away from goal and it was impossible from that distance to judge if it had crossed the line," he said.

"I could not have guessed because you have to be 100 per cent sure on such important decisions. I am disappointed because I like to get decisions right. But I have thought about it a lot since the incident and there was nothing I could have done differently - apart from run faster than Linford Christie."