Controversial calls have been a prominent feature of the Premier League this season. Barely a week goes by without claims of a diving incident, debatable red cards, or phantom goals. Of course this often irritates fans, particularly if your team is wronged. The fact that soccer’s major governing bodies continue to ignore fans by doing nothing to address these officiating controversies, only heightens that frustration. Soccer could very easily rid itself of certain contentious calls by embracing technology. Like the opening line from the old Six Million Dollar Man show said, “We have the technology…”
As arguably the world’s biggest league, the Premier League should look to lead the pack in adopting new technology. Goal-line technology is the bare minimum solution, as the recent Chelsea-Tottenham FA Cup semi-final demonstrated when Chelsea’s Juan Mata scored a goal that didn’t actually cross the line. Critics say adopting this technology would disturb the natural flow of soccer, but we’re not talking about 10 minute evaluations here. The goal-line systems that are already being tested can electronically beam a goal/no goal indicator to the referee’s watch within one second of the incident occurring. Typical goal celebrations last much longer than the time it would take to determine a goal’s validity.
In addition to goal-line technology, soccer desperately needs to incorporate limited video instant replay. A reasonable plan would limit reviewable decisions to red cards and any calls made inside the penalty box (including offsides in the box). That way, only decisions (like penalty kicks) that have the greatest potential to affect the outcome of a match would be reviewed. Again, critics say it would interrupt the game’s flow, which I refute. It often takes less than a minute for TV commentators to check replays and render judgment that is usually obvious once you see it from a few angles. Limited reviews wouldn’t interrupt a game any more than the injury-feigning players that annoy soccer fans every weekend.
I can understand soccer purists’ anti-technology stance, but they’re being stubborn and ignorant to think the game would be severely altered by adding goal-line technology and instant replay for major decisions. If purists need proof, just look at tennis -a game steeped in its own traditions and history. Yet even tennis has shot-spotting technology. It hasn’t hampered the game. It hasn’t even replaced umpires or linesmen. It doesn’t take too long and it serves players well by bringing them justice.
The laws of soccer were developed in a time when people couldn’t even imagine television. Referees had the final word on decisions because there was no alternative. You simply had to accept their errors as part of the game. In a modern technology-driven world however, it’s naïve of soccer’s governing bodies to sail along without instant replay and expect fans to be okay with it. It creates a weird alternate universe in which we know what actually happened in a match through replay, but have to live with our believed injustice. It’s a bizarre state of denial for leagues to condone wrong or missed refereeing decisions when the world knows the truth via replays (like Thierry Henry’s “Hand of Gaul” goal that sent France to the 2010 World Cup instead of Ireland).
Ironically, the English FA uses replay to retroactively punish players for on-field tussles, but they won’t use it to challenge refereeing decisions that have the power to alter final league standings (not to mention the millions of pounds at stake). So they’re willing to use replay, just not during matches. When you consider UEFA President Michel Platini apparently opposes goal-line technology because of the infrequency of questionable goals that, you have to question the thought process of those at the top of this game. It’s time for the Premier League to step up and prove the soccer world doesn’t need to fear technology, it needs to embrace it.