Leading article: A technological answer to cheating

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Irish and English football fans find themselves united in sporting disgruntlement. In 1986 England were eliminated from the Mexico World Cup with the help of an outrageous Diego Maradona handball. And this week the Republic of Ireland were bundled out of their World Cup qualification play-off against France in Paris when the French striker, Thierry Henry, controlled the ball with his palm to set up a French winner. The "hand of god" has been succeeded by the "main de dieu" in the pantheon of sporting injustice.

If anything, the Irish have even more reason to be aggrieved than the English. England were beaten in Mexico by a superior side. In Paris, the Irish were every bit as good as their hosts. But it is Henry and co who will go to the finals in South Africa next summer, while for the Republic of Ireland, the dream is over for another four years. The unfairness is screamingly obvious. But the question is, what can be done about it? The answer surely has to be the introduction of video technology to allow referees to spot (and penalise) acts of cheating they would otherwise miss.

A common objection to video assistance has been that it would slow down games to an intolerable extent, with every contentious incident analysed from multiple angles on replays by referees. The game would indeed be slowed down. But there is no reason they should become intolerably sluggish provided sufficient safeguards on the number of permitted appeals were introduced. Another common objection to video technology is that it would diminish the authority of referees on the field of play. But if referees' judgements became more accurate, it could very well strengthen their authority. There would also be a significant new deterrent to players engaging in skulduggery.

Popular sports such as cricket, rugby and tennis have all incorporated new technologies to assist referees in recent years. Football looks increasingly isolated in eschewing it. The case for a new trial of video replays by the football authorities is overwhelming. And those who are still not convinced should pick up the debate this morning with an Irish football supporter.