Happy three weeks until the start of the 2017 Major League Soccer season! Let the New York Red Bulls finally win their first MLS Cup this season, win CONCACAF Champions League, sweep NYCFC, earn their third supporter’s shield, and Bradley Wright-Phillips win his third MLS Golden Boot. Recognizing that they can transfer players internationally would be nice too. With that in mind, let’s start a three week sequences on technology in soccer. I’ve been following soccer since the last world cup, and I’ve grown to love the sport. However, there is still one thing that I cannot get over about it: the stubbornness of officials and fans in adopting new technology in game. This week let’s take a look at a past issue: goal-line technology.
Now, some technological integration within the sport has been met with some success. Recently, goal-line technology has been successful. The theory behind goal-line technology is simple; using a few sensors and/or a ton of cameras, detect the position of the soccer ball relative to the goal. The sensor systems, such as GoalRef, relies on a magnetic field created through electromagnetic induction from wires on the goal frame and a tracker in the ball to determine its strength, and thus, a goal. The camera-based systems, such as Hawk-Eye, triangulate and track the position of the soccer ball relative to the goal posts in order to determine if a goal has been scored. Goal-Line technology takes some of the guess work out of refereeing (as a former youth soccer referee, there’s more of it than you think). It only ensures fair and less controversial games. A team gets a point when it absolutely crosses the goal line – no ghost goals possible. You would think using this technology would be a no-brainer. However, for soccer officials and fans, that decision isn’t as easy as it sounds.
For everyone involved in soccer, it usually takes themselves getting screwed over by a flaw in the rules for them to advocate for a change. For some, it was the 2010 FIFA World Cup. During the first knockout round in the England vs Germany match, Frank Lampard, an English player, kicked the ball over the goal-line, but the ball bounced back out of the goal. Neither the referee or any of the assistant referees noticed that the goal crossed the line and thus did not award England with a point. England went on to lose the game 4-1 (but it’s England – are you really surprised?). As expected, the entire population of England was outraged. The ungiven goal helped prevent them from progressing in the world cup.
This incident was a major factor in prompting a change by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) to allow goal-line technology in the game. But why this incident? First of all, it happened at the highest level of the game, the World Cup. The entire world saw the flaw in the rules. Secondly, it happened to England. But why England specifically? The voting members on the IFAB are notably FIFA and the four home nations, notably one of which is England’s football association. The Football Association is directly affected and motivated to try to fix the problem so it doesn’t screw them over again. With this, the rule was changed in 2012, two years after the incident, to allow the use of goal-line technology in the game. Since then, it has been implemented at all major tournaments and the top leagues around the world.
Next week, I’ll take a look at a technology which is a new frontier for soccer which is common to every other sport: video referees.