Saturday, 28 January 2017

It's Amazing That This Isn't Happening In Football

A truth almost universally acknowledged is that getting things right is better than getting things wrong. Therefore when people either deliberately increase their chances of getting things wrong, or deliberately deny themselves a better opportunity to get things right, one ought to stop and ask why. There are many examples of this in society – one of which is in football, where in every match that takes place the people governing the game deliberately increase the chances of their officials getting things wrong.

I am talking here of the ridiculous notion of referees not having access to video replays of important, potentially game-changing, season-defining events during a football match. For decades now, key penalty appeals (either by fouls or handballs inside the box), free kicks just outside the box, offsides when the player is through on goal, and tackles that may or may not be a red card offence have been given or not given on the basis of the referee’s snap judgement, when quite often the video reply shows that the decision was a mistake.

Hand-balls, shirt-tugging, disallowed goals when the player was onside, fouls in the box – you name it, there are hundreds of occasions each season where teams get decisions they shouldn’t and don’t get decisions they should. Not only does this cause no end of frustration and injustice, it also imposes costly externalities on the sport, where the stakes are high and the outcomes often vitally important.

They’ve sorted out the ‘Did the ball cross the line?’ problem, with goal line technology that can verify one way or the other. That they don’t do the same for offences inside the penalty box, key offside decisions, bad tackles and so on is absurd. All that would need to happen is this. When such a key incident occurs, the fourth official and/or the referee get to watch the replay thoroughly and then make what will usually be the right decision. If the replay provides clear evidence one way or the other then the right decision can be made. If it’s still inconclusive then the officials get to make a decision, but at least they'll have the benefit of reviewing it more carefully rather than being disadvantaged by having to make on-the-spot judgements.

The only possibly plausible argument I've heard against this idea is that it will take some of the drama out of the game by increasing the number of stoppages. I don't think this is necessarily true. Many stoppages will simply replace current stoppages where the players surround the ref and complain of a wrong decision. But even it were true, it strikes me as strange to argue that a few stoppages are not a price worth paying for referees getting most of their decisions right.

Furthermore, this needn't come at the expense of drama at all. The replays could be shown on the big screen in stadiums at the same time that the officials are watching them, engendering apprehension and anticipation before the decision is made. There would surely be no less drama with this happening. Moreover, it could even be the case, like in tennis, whereby the ability to contest a decision is limited to three opportunities, meaning there is importance in choosing your disputes wisely.

Whichever way you cut the cloth, it remains one of the most absurd things about football that the game continues to be played with such a trivial attitude towards increasing the likelihood that matches will be officiated as correctly and fairly as possible. There is certainly the technology and capacity to do so, and I fancy that future generations will become quite accustomed to video replays being a key part of the drama during the matches. They will probably also look back on us and wonder why it took us so long for it to be implemented.
And while we are on the subject of video replays, here's what else I'd love to see - an end to the pathetic play-acting we see too often from wimpish drama queens. If a video replay shows a player has gone down like sack of spuds when he's been hardly touched, or clutches his face in pain when video evidence shows he was only gently brushed on the ear or chest, I'd like to see him receive a ban, where he can spend a few games on the side-lines thinking about what a conniving sissy he is.