Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Technological Terror

As FIFA prepare to introduce goal-line technology for the Brazilian World Cup next year, much has been debated. The great technology question straddles the timeless fault-lines between footballing traditionalists and footballing modernists; many drawing conclusions based on their outlook on the state of a changing sport. Regardless, it is an intense and entertaining argument.

The most profound argument in favour of goal-line technology is its apparent ability to bring clarity and purity to the game; instances such as Frank Lampard's 'goal' for England against Germany at the 2010 World Cup supposedly being consigned to history as mere anomalies of a naive era. This argument holds some water. Every attempt must be made to at least diminish, if not eradicate entirely, such monumental mistakes, for the better enjoyment of all football fans; nothing is more ruinous to the fan experience than the all-encompassing indignation which accompanies such incidents.

However, many find it entirely incomprehensible that a computer-based system will be accurate 100% of the time. On a domestic level, technology is often defined by its propensity to crash, to freeze, to break easily. In expanding the same science to such a gargantuan scale, it surely follows that the same inefficiencies will be evident, only with even graver consequences. It is one annoyance when a mobile phone charger suddenly breaks, but it is an entirely different disaster when the system responsible for the oversight of a World Cup goal-line implodes. Further, it is one gut-wrenching agony to be denied a 'goal' by a lackadaisical officiating crew, but it is another entirely to see one chalked-off by a glitch in a system which is supposed to eradicate such nonsense. At times, on such issues, it is as if FIFA becomes irony-impaired.

Also, the timeless 'goals win games' debate is found lacking in any substance. Yes, goals to win games, but such a notion is entirely beside this debate. Whilst such a system as HawkEye, or GoalRef, may very well prove that the ball has crossed the goal-line, it will arrive at such a conclusion without due reference to any pattern of play which has proceeded such a situation. It will matter not if the shot was taken from an offside position. It will matter not if a midfielder was fouled off the ball in the build-up. It will matter not if the ball was propelled by a hand. Eventually, people will begin calling for systems to govern such things, which must be avoided at all costs! Just as cannabis is a gateway to much more destructive drugs, goal-line technology will be akin to the first domino being flicked, in an inexorable decline towards an Orwellian game of robotics. It would only be a matter of time before we have electronic censors buzzing audibly every time the ball goes out for a throw-in, or a loud klaxon greeting every tug of an opponents shirt in the penalty area. Such absurdities are not for football. Not now. Not ever.

Regardless of the morality of such technology, many remain dumbfounded by the logistics of such a concept. More questions than can be answered in the sixteen months remaining until the World Cup still remain. How will managers actually be able to 'challenge' a decision? What ramifications will be implemented for an unsuccessful referral? How will the game restart after a two-minute long flirtation with HawkEye? That FIFA can seriously consider implementing such an evidently-flawed system so soon is beyond belief.

Surely, the world governing body should instead be focused on delivering an improvement in the training, and enhancing, of referees and match officials. In any other sphere, it would be deemed absurd to trust a computer more than a human; but, in football, it is considered 'progression.' For too long, our referees haven't received the correct training, sufficient backing, nor clear direction. With the millions of pounds primed to be pumped into this technological disaster, surely we could enhance the skills of our referees! This, unfortunately, would appear too conservative to the fame-hungry FIFA officials.

Many advocates of technology in football point to other sports, where, we are told, its implementation has added drama and excitement. At Wimbledon, for example, the HawkEye decisions rank amongst the most-exciting parts of the tournament. In Twenty20 cricket, the game comes alive on the technological referrals. However, those who invoke such shallow comparisons miss the point entirely: technology has added excitement to tennis and cricket because, on the whole, those sports lack the naturally-occurring suspense of football! Football is excitement. Football is drama. Football, quite frankly, is football. The beautiful game does not need gimmicks to maintain its standing in the public consciousness; it is the game of poetry.

Moreover, technology may add excitement to football, but only for those rich enough to enjoy it. In an era defined by a ludicrously-unfair playing field, the implementation of technology would only exacerbate the division between the have's and have not's. Sure, Manchester United would be able to install a shiny goal-line system in their luxurious Old Trafford home, but, we, Tranmere Rovers, will never possess the money to purchase, inculcate and use the technology. This accentuates the greatest depravity of the modern game: the biggest clubs exist in their own bubble, so far off in the stratosphere, that they play an entirely different concept of football. In years gone by, football was lauded for its breath-taking simplicity; any group of kids could play with a ball and a few bundles of coats, for goalposts. We all played the same game. Soon, the Premier League will complete its thorough break-away, and create an exclusive code of 'Uber-football,' with the technology, the stadiums, the hysteria that we cannot afford. Goal-line technology would only feed the discrepancy between the top and the bottom.

When England take the field in Brazil next year, providing the successful consummation of an ongoing qualifying campaign, they will feel safe that such a travesty as Frank Lampard in Bloemfontein will not happen again. However, such a trade off is ignorant of the wider destruction goal-line technology could exact against the game we love.


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