June 8, 2014

Countdown to Brazil: Technology 4 The Referees

In terms of refereeing, the 20th FIFA World Cup that is going to start in Brazil next Thursday is particularly outstanding because of some new technology that will be used during the 64 matches. These innovative tools are supposed to support the match officials in detecting goals and monitoring the walls and the ball's position at free-kicks.

As you surely know, we won't experience Wembley 1966 or Bloemfontein 2010 once again. In 1966 final, an English attacker's shot on goal hit the crossbar and touched the ground maybe slightly behind the goalline, maybe on the goalline. Even 3D analyses were never able to clarify this incident. The Azerbaijani (formerly Soviet) linesman Tofiq Bəhramov advised Suisse referee Gottfried Dienst to allow the goal, but later admitted that he was not able to see where the ball touched the ground. He thought the ball would have bounced back from the goal net and later on yielded to the pressure of Wembley's audience. A World Cup final was decided by this sort of match situation.
History repeated itself back in South Africa in 2010. In the Round of 16 clash between Germany and England, Frank Lampard's equalizing goal did not count, since Uruguayan assistant referee Mauricio Espinosa had a black-out on the sideline. Though it must be mentioned that despite the very clear nature of this mistake, this error was also based on the system, i.e. that assistant referees have to be positioned on line with the second last defender, making Espinosa being positioned approximately 11 metres away from the goalline. Larrionda got no signal from his assistant and therefore had to wave play-on. At the next stoppage, the entire football world saw what the officials did not see. And that's the problematic component of this type of mistake - contrary to penalty kick decisions, sending-offs or whatsoever, you don't need expertise or interpretation resources to determine whether a goal was scored or not. Everybody is able to see that. At any rate, England never found back into the game; Jorge Larrionda and his team had to leave the tournament. 
Examples like Ukraine - England at EURO 2012 have also shown that Additional Assistant Referees do not have the potential to solve this issue with 100% certainty. Their strenghts can be found in different areas, but surely not in monitoring the goalline. The human eye, the human brain and visual obstacles will never be as perfect as technological support.

That's why FIFA tested Goalline Technology at last year's Confederations Cup, also known as "Goal Control". It consists of a image processing system feeded by 14 high-speed cameras distributed in different positions in the stadium, e.g. under the stadium's roof. The pictures are crossed and analyzed by the system which then sends a signal to the referee's watch. The decision in favour of or against a goal is thus becoming more efficient, less complicated and, above all, more correct. It takes the pressure off the referees' back and won't lead to further felt injusticies like in the past. Most referees appreciate this technological support and it's easy to understand why.

As usual, there are a few voices reasoning in a rather nostalgic way and emphasizing the danger arousing from doing the first step into the technological direction. Others highlight the high costs. And yes, both arguments are not totally invalid but can be easily refuted: First, FIFA's approach is to limit technology to Goal/No-Goal decisions, and that's good. Offside or even penalty kick decisions won't be taken with the aid of technology in foreseeable time. Second, high costs are indeed a valid argument at domestic level in smaller national associations. Even in Germany's Bundesliga the proposal in favour of GLT was rejected by the majority of clubs since they cannot afford to invest that much monetary resources. But in the current case, it's about a World Cup organized by FIFA - and the Genevan concern is lacking everything but money.

The other technological novelty is the vanishing spray used to mark the wall's and ball's positions at free-kicks. The tool, that is being availed in South American competitions for several years and that was first tested by FIFA at U-20 World Cup 2013, is supposed to support referees when controlling the correct wall-distance of 9.15m and defining the correct and stationary ball position during free-kicks close to the penalty area. The spray creates a white foam line which vanishes within one minute. It consists of a non-contaminating foam being procuded in an ecofriendly way. Usually the spray is stored in a bottle placed at the referees' trousers.
In an official press release, FIFA explained their decision to implement this equipment that is already deployed for years in South American football as follows:
"The spray is aimed at giving match officials the opportunity to mark a line on which the defending team must line up its defensive wall before a free kick is taken. Produced by the Argentinian company Fair Play 9.15 Limit, the spray marks a white line on the grass, which indicates clearly any attempted encroachment by players aimed at narrowing the angle or affecting the taking of the free-kick."

That's how World Cup Referees prepare in 2014: Spraying white lines

Contrary to Goalline Technology, some simple questions can be asked here: Why? What for? Where is the need to install something like this? For a moment, we even can ignore that referees who have to bend down right in front of players convey a psychologically poor outer image. When a referee is not able to adequately monitor the wall's and ball's positions, you have to question his personality and management abilities.
Some of the referees who will be active in Brazil don't speak English at all - maybe they are the ones who will benefit most of this vanishing spray. Some commentators will also have a fancy for describing and explaining this procedure a hundred times (minimum). And it is surely a nice idea, but completely useless, at least in my opinion.


  1. Check out the posts I wrote on this stuff!

  2. Outstanding work by FIFA: a presentation-video for each of the 33 officials at WC.
    I didn't expect that, excellent and wonderful stuff.

  3. Thanks for any other great article. Where else may anyone get that kind of info in such a perfect method of writing? I have a presentation subsequent week, and I’m at the search for such info.

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