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Anorak | New Balls For Old

New Balls For Old

by | 26th, November 2004

‘IN case you haven’t heard, the German Bundesliga is about to start trials of a new “space-age ball”.

Hurst shoots and the ball is clearly over the line

And given that the heyday of the space age was the 1960s, it is fitting that the ball is designed to settle the kind of controversy that occurred most famously in 1966 at Wembley.

The “I-ball”, as it is called, is the brainchild of retired Italian referee Gabriele Cruciali, It contains a sensor which will indicate whether it has crossed the goal line, and communicate this information to a receiver worn on the ref’s wrist.

Good, you might say, the fewer mistakes the better. Surely even the anti-technology lobby will agree that it would be good to sort out over-the-line incidents like Geoff Hurst’s effort or Chesterfield’s disallowed goal in the FA Cup semi-final against Middlesbrough.

And anyway, what’s the difference between a simple device like this and the introduction of goal nets to make decision-making more reliable?

Well, two things. Firstly, it is establishing a precedent for the use of technology, and it is unlikely to stop at ball-over-the-goal-line incidents.

These incidents are extremely rare, so pressure would then arise to use the technology for other things – for goal kicks and corners, or even by wiring up the players, so it could be established who touched the ball last.

By then, technology would be a fait accompli, and it would be only a matter of time before video replays would be introduced.

Which brings up the second problem: the erosion of the referees’ powers.

The main problem with referees at the moment is not that they make mistakes – they will always make mistakes, and technology will simply alter the type of mistakes that they make.

Anyone who thinks that technology would reduce controversy is seriously underestimating football’s endless capacity to generate argument.

No, the problem with refs is that they are having to deal with confusing and downright incomprehensible rules (such as the current version of offside), and ridiculous directives (such as the mandatory booking for certain celebrations).

The former invites inconsistency because no-one (including referees) understands it, and it thus increases the scope of discretion in an area where discretion is not appropriate.

Meanwhile, the latter removes discretion in an area where it is wholly desirable.

This is not to say that referees couldn’t improve. It’s just that when you look at how the game’s rulers are continually fiddling with the basic laws of the game to the annoyance of players, refs and fans alike, you can’t help worrying when they start trying to introduce hi-tech “solutions” to non-existent problems.

They should sort out the rules of the game – which worked perfectly well for the best part of a century – and allow the rest of us to get on with what we enjoy best: watching football with an off-side rule that is intelligible to all men (if not all women) and complaining every time a decision goes against our team.’



Posted: 26th, November 2004 | In: Back pages Comment | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink