Goal-Line Technology (Ipswich Town – NFFC Programme Notes)

2010 was a wonderful year to be an England fan. Having gone 2-0 behind to those darned efficient Germans, Frank Lampard revitalised our World Cup dreams by equalising just before half time. It was the sort of goal scabby-kneed children will strive to emulate, in playgrounds across the land, for the next ten years or more. He lobbed the German goalkeeper; the ball hitting the underside of the bar before bouncing down, clearly over the line.

England, having come back from two behind, went on to win the game. Galvanised by victory over the old enemy, the nation grew in belief, culminating in England being crowned World Cup winners for the second time in history. Wayne Rooney was knighted, a national holiday was declared, the recession was averted and the Queen, donning a novelty St. George hat, played the theme to The Great Escape on a trumpet in the middle of Trafalgar Square.

If you don’t recall any of this happening that’s probably because the Uruguayan linesman failed to spot what millions had seen so clearly on a television screen: the ball, following Lampard’s clinical finish, crossing the goal-line by a clear foot. In this technologically advanced age, with iPhones and Sat-Navs and Zumbathons, why can’t we decide whether a ball has crossed the line or not?

Sepp Blatter, recently re-crowned FIFA president following a landslide victory, has publicly stated a number of reasons why the introduction of goal-line technology would be bad for the game, but in my opinion all of these reasons are red herrings.

To hear his views on technology, one would assume Blatter to live in a remote thatched cottage somewhere in the Swiss countryside, smashing up computers with a sledgehammer in his spare time. I can just imagine him lighting his candles, getting a feathered quill and pot of ink out of his bureau and writing ‘destroy the machine’  a hundred times on some discarded brown envelope.

One of the main arguments the Swiss dictator uses to delay essential technological advances within the game is that “human error is part of the very essence of the game.” Blatter believes that taking the ‘human’ element of refereeing away would make the game less exciting and give supporters less to talk about. This is an absolutely ridiculous point of view. Football fans want officials to make fewer mistakes and be more consistent, so that they go virtually unnoticed throughout the course of a game. If this technology can help referees perform to a higher standard, then surely it has to be good for the sport.

Another argument used by the FIFA president is that football should be the same at all levels and implementing goal-line technology throughout the leagues would be impossible. Once again I find this excuse laughable. In every single respect the gulf between the elite leagues and the lower divisions is astronomical. Whether it be the state of the pitch, the quality of the officials or the standard of the facilities, football becomes a different game depending on the level you happen to be watching.

The final argument championed by Blatter is that the introduction of this technological advance would lead to more and more technology infiltrating the sport. Eventually, video technology will spoil the free flowing game that we all know and love. He is worried that if we tamper too much with the fundamentals of the game it may lose its identity. I would argue that the game has been constantly tampered with since its inception.

Back in 1890, Nottingham Forest were the first team to introduce nets to accompany goalposts. Prior to this, there was no way of knowing for sure if the ball had gone between the posts or not. I imagine a few fist shaking Victorians cursed the ‘new fangled goal nets’ but their necessary introduction moved the game forward. Similarly, the introduction of goal-line technology can improve our game without it resulting in an army of football-headed robots taking over the planet!

Football lost a lot of credibility after the 2010 World Cup and, as a result, it appears Blatter has finally buckled on the issue. Having initially dismissed goal-line technology out of hand, FIFA will now review the matter again in March 2012.

In reality Blatter is not the backward thinking Luddite that I have portrayed. He Sky-Plusses The Only Way Is Essex, whilst playing Guitar Hero in his moon boots, just like the rest of us. The real reason for FIFA’s deliberation over the issue of goal-line technology is money.

There is no financial benefit to its introduction. In fact the initial cost is estimated to be around £250,000 per stadium. I actually think the costs involved are a better reason not to employ goal-line technology than any of the other flaky excuses previously mentioned. However it would not reflect well on FIFA to admit that money is of greater value than justice within the modern game.

The final decision, due to be made in March 2012, will not be based on sporting ethics; it will be based on the costs involved. If goal-line technology had come free of charge there would never have been a debate.

I only hope that football has not become so consumed by greed that the price of fairness is deemed too steep when a final decision regarding goal-line technology is made in March 2012.

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