Football still in the dark ages

A controversial decision by a football referee at the weekend prompted these thoughts.

I find it astonishing that such a global business as football still relies on the fallible decisions of one man. Just one error of judgement by the referee could cost a club thirty million pounds or more, should they be relegated or miss out on a cup competition. With so much money involved you would think it was in everyone’s interest to ensure that a correct decision was made.

The other astonishing fact is that the solution is already available and in place but no-one seems willing to use it. I am of course referring to the battery of cameras recording every second of the game. This is how we know the referee at the weekend made such a hash of it; slow motion replays show no foul was committed, yet a penalty was awarded.

Here is my solution. Each team is allowed at least one call for a video review. Once they have used that call, they must abide by all the referees subsequent decisions, so any use of the review has to be carefully judged. This should not interfere too much with the flow of the game.

The call can be made by the aggrieved player. So the player who was judged to have committed a foul in the incident at the weekend can make the call because he will know best if he did or did not commit a foul (there is no point calling for a review if he knows it will show him deliberately impeding the other player). The player signals to their manager that they wish for a video review by some hand gesture. The manager then knows his player is confident of his innocence but he makes a final decision to order the review or not. His decision will be based on how critical the incident is to the winning or losing of the game. If he decides for a review, the referees decision is suspended and the fourth official makes the review.

The idea that referees do not make mistakes is idiocy and yet referees under pressure feel the need to assert their authority by sticking to their guns even if they know they made a bad decision.

So the final decision is made by the fourth official based on the video evidence. If a mistake has clearly been made the referees decision is overruled. If the fourth official cannot decide from the evidence, the original decision by the referee stands and no more video calls can be made by that team.

The time taken to make the decision is added on to the match so that a team in a winning position cannot use the video review to tactically waste time. You could even introduce some form of punishment for the side that attempts to use it as a spoiling tactic because it should be apparent from the video review that there is no controversy about a decision.

This should also go towards eliminating the practice of ‘diving’ where a player feigns contact from another player when there was none. Calls for hand ball in the penalty area and confusion about the ball crossing a line could also be cleared up with a video review.

It could even be extended to ‘off the ball’ incidents where the referee is looking away from the infringement. So a player who is assaulted by an opposing player can call for a review and if the incident is caught on camera, the opposing player can be booked or sent off.

Most grounds have large screens so the video review could be played back on them and the spectators could see for themselves what actually took place.

It is no good realising after the game that a decision was wrong, that doesn’t help anybody and only fuels resentment against officials. The time has come to drag football into the dazzling light of a technological age.

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