So goal-line technology will finally be upon us. I hope to God it works.
For the technology to be a success one thing has to happen and another thing cannot be allowed to happen.
One, it has to be accurate and indisputably correct (assuming we all accept that man-made machines are always accurate and indisputably correct).
And two, it cannot tamper with football’s core beauty and source of excitement: its uninterrupted flow.
The measure, approved in early July by football’s law-making body, IFAB, is only entering its testing stage, using two systems: Hawk-Eye, with which we are already familiar through its use in major tennis tournaments, and GoalRef, about which we ordinary punters know nothing.
Both systems will get a guernsey at the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan in December and then will be used in next year’s Confederations Cup and, FIFA being happy, at the World Cup in Brazil a year later.
Sepp Blatter, the FIFA president, will probably secretly hope that a ‘Frank Lampard’ incident will occur at those tournaments, just so his faith, and his backflip on goal-line technology after decades of opposition to it, will be vindicated.
It was the ‘Frank Lampard’ at the 2010 World Cup, when no goal was ruled after Lampard’s shot against Germany was half a metre over the goal line, which finally cracked the Blatter resistance. Then, after the Hungarian official István Vad appeared to have a temporary attack of strabismus when judging a goal attempt by Ukraine against England, the nail was in the coffin of the argument (espoused by many, including me) that officiating by machines was a poison that might invite the game’s ruination.
Now Blatter was drawn to say that this is it, that goal-line technology was now a necessity. FIFA ordered that Vad and his entire team, including that fine referee, Viktor Kassai, be sent back to Budapest.
Michel Platini, the UEFA boss, continued to oppose it but he will now just have to cop it sweet. The machines, like the Martians of HG Wells, are coming and there is nothing any of us can bloody do about it.
Blatter is confident that Platini will in the end accept it and that it will not lead to a further leap to video refereeing on other questionable decisions, like whether a player committed a case of deliberate handball or in fact he was just lifting his arm in order to pick his nose.
What troubles me about this stuff is that football began to captivate the world around 150 years ago and has been increasingly captivating it ever since, all without the tool of graphic TV replays from 78 angles and abstract animations of fancy visual geometry and straight lines, meant to please the curious onlooker about what is just and what is unjust. Now, a century and a half later, there is an apparent need to fix, by way of introducing machines, a game that long ago conquered the world.
The fixation is with the notion that football, and sport, is supposed to be about justice, which it is not and never has been. It is about fair play which is a very different thing.
But of course the game’s universal might and its capacity, therefore, for forensic examination is its own worst enemy. The billions of eyeballs that gaze upon it, day in and day out, through the most detailed camera work, demand perfection and a kind of righteousness it never sought nor claimed to have. But there you go. Football is now ruled by the onlooker, by what the onlooker wants and expects, and Sepp Blatter is towing the line.
Let’s see what happens.
Football, through this, has hit a fork in the road. It will hover and vacillate before it chooses which direction to take: the way of safeguarding the substance of what made it popular, including its acceptance that in a human endeavour perfection is unachievable, or the notion that in a sporting contest justice, even at the cost of diluting the soul of the game, must prevail.
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