Technology threatens the beautiful game

2015-03-01 15:00

This weekend some of football’s most powerful figures are gathering in Belfast, Northern Ireland, to deliberate on matters facing the beautiful game.

High on the agenda will be the contentious issue of the use of technology to help referees who officiate at football matches.

By the sounds of things, opinion is rapidly moving in favour of taking absolute power away from humans and giving it to computers.

This was evident from the comments of Fifa’s referees chairperson Jim Boyce this week when he

said he was in favour of using technology to detect infringements in the penalty box.

At the moment, the only electronic methodology used is goal-line technology.

Adopting this limited use took a lot of persuasion with heavyweights such as Fifa president Sepp Blatter and Uefa boss Michel Platini vehemently opposed to it.

The push to extend the use of technology to other areas of the field is something that is being fiercely resisted by purists, who believe human error is as much a part of the game as the bicycle kick.

In an interview with Press Association Sport, Boyce said recent mistakes had nudged him further.

“I was always in favour of goal-line technology but not other forms of technology. But I have started to change my mind?...?I believe that if there are major decisions on incidents in the 18-yard box, and technology is available, then I think the time has come that it should be used,” he said.

The system could involve an official sitting in a room with a TV screen and being in electronic contact with the referee.

“So many high-profile mistakes appear to be made, so maybe we do have to look at this now – but only for the penalty box. I don’t think you can do it for every incident in the middle of the pitch,” said Boyce.

Boyce is a reluctant convert to technology, so his views will carry a lot of weight.

This move would be yet another step in the march towards the sanitisation of football. The crybabies say the technology will result in greater fairness.

The more convincing argument is the antitechnology one. This argument says the greater use of technology will kill the on-field and off-pitch beauty of the game.

This line of thinking says football’s beauty is largely because of its fluidity. So any measure that slows down the game will kill its rhythm.

Critics argue that constant replays will undermine the referees’ authority as it will take away the finality of their judgements. And it will discourage theatrics such as dives and the emotional protests that are so much a part of the game. Poorer associations have also raised the issue of affordability.

But the strongest argument is that technology takes away the talking point of the game. Think about it: what is the most talked-about moment in football history?

It is Diego Maradona’s “hand of God”, of course. Three decades after the 1986 World Cup, it still gets tongues wagging in the world of football.

The incident is still debated ad nauseam 30 years after it occurred. If there had been technology back then, the football world would have been robbed of the billions of conversations that have taken place around the incident.

In addition to the “hand of God” talking point, many disallowed goals, marginal offside calls, game-changing red cards and borderline penalty awards would have been reviewed by a machine.

Millions of heated conversations would have been silenced and lively debates would have died before they started. Countless controversies, which are an essential aspect of the game, would have been averted.

So before the football bosses rush headfirst into technology, they must consider the cost of losing one of the game’s greatest assets: controversy.

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