The fall out from Chelsea v. Barcelona on Wednesday night continues unabated today as PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor has called for the use of technology in football to assist referees. Speaking to the BBC, he said: “We are putting referee’s in too vulnerable a situation with the conspiracy theories that abound that UEFA would not want an all English final, it was an accident waiting to happen…. Until we bring in technology we are almost giving ourselves ignition points where the game could flare up for players and supporters.”
Tom Ovrebo is the scapegoat of the moment but it boggles the mind how it could have come to Wednesday night for this debate to be once again pushed to the fore. Chelsea are not the only victims of dodgy penalty decisions, Barca were unlucky in the first leg at the Nou Camp and last year Arsenal were denied a clear penalty at the Emirates against Liverpool when Alexander Hleb was brought down, just a couple of examples.
The debate over technology should not just focus on mistakes made on Wednesday night, as Taylor points out the referee is put in such an exposed position by the powers that be in the game. Ovrebo is now under police protection in Norway amid death threats and a media storm. He is not the first, as Swede Anders Frisk retired from the game after abuse suffered following a Chelsea/Barcelona Champions League tie in 2005.
Technology should not be used to make the role of the referee redundant but assist him in making decisions. Look at other sports, rugby union, rugby league and tennis, where technology using cameras has been well and truly integrated into the game. Yes, football is different and played at a completely different pace to these sports but at this point football looks decidedly backward in its application of technology that is widely available.
FIFA and other such organizations are supposed to be the guardians of our game but at this point they seem to be fiddling while Rome burns, with FIFA president Sepp Blatter defending the cessation of the development of goal-line technology. Blatter proffered that these systems are too complicated, too expensive and not foolproof. It may not be foolproof but it would seem likely that it would stand a far better chance than a referee or linesman, standing 20 yards away, having to make an instantaneous decision on whether the ball has crossed the line.
Admittedly there are issues around how camera and other technology would impact on the flow of the game and which types of decisions could be influenced. For instance with something like Abidal’s sending off on Wednesday you still have disagreements between people when you slow it down frame by frame. Did he make contact? Was it intentional?
But goal-line technology should be a given, it should already be introduced, what will it take for people like Blatter to pull their head out of the sand and bring football in line with other modern sports?
FIFA believe the best way forward is to improve the standard of refereeing rather than introduce technological advances. Why are the two mutually exclusive? A high standard of refereeing is compatible with the use of cameras to assist their decisions.
Football’s governing bodies need to smarten up and explore more thoroughly an area that they seem content to largely ignore. If a more cogent and worthwhile debate emerges from Wednesday’s furore then something positive will come from those tawdry scenes we witnessed after the final whistle between Chelsea and Barcelona.