Wednesday, 5 April 2017

When video replays go too far

In last week's football friendly between France and Spain something unusual happened. Video replays analysed by a fourth official were used to correct two goal decisions, something which the French team wouldn't have been overly happy about as the first disallowed an French goal for offside and the second allowed a Spanish goal that had originally been ruled out for offside.

Nevertheless, the overall view seemed to be that this was a good thing, the way forward, and FIFA President Gianni Infantino seems keen to press ahead to introduce the system in next year's World Cup.

However, another incident happened at the weekend which showed how care should be taken when dealing with the use of video replays in sport. American golfer Lexi Thompson was given four shot penalty for incorrectly replacing her marked ball whilst leading the ANA Inspiration tournament by two shots on the final day. That sounds fair enough, until you consider that her offence had been committed during the previous day's play, and was not spotted by officials or her playing partner. Instead an eagle-eyed TV viewer had spotted it and alerted officials.

Bizarrely, the rules of golf allow penalties to be given at any time whilst the tournament, but these surely need updating in an age where almost every professional tournament, men's and women's, is shown all around the world on TV, not to mention the internet. It can't be right that viewers can influence the outcome in this way, even if what they've spotted is correct. I think most people would agree with that.

Does that mean though that we don't mind mistakes being made, as long as the sport is kept real? Is sport better with a few officiating errors here and there to give us something to argue about? Is there a danger that football will become more boring if every refereeing decision is correct?

Getting refereeing decisions right is a very big deal. Look at the cost of relegation from the Premier League. Every club playing in the Premiership next season will receive more than £100m, compared with parachute payments for the three clubs that go down of £25m, reducing to £20m and £10m in the following seasons. With the battle to avoid relegation still tight, imagine if a refereeing error between now and the end of the season made the difference between a club staying up and going down.

But some of the most famous, talked about moments in the game’s history involve refereeing decisions – England’s goal against West Germany in 1966, Maradona’s hand-of-god goal. Would we be robbed of football folklore if video replays were introduced?

What about other sports that have brought in technology to make decision-making better? Hawk-eye is now well established at tennis Grand Slam events, but would we remember John McEnroe the same way though if he hadn’t had any of his many Centre Court tantrums because he’d been able to make three referrals every set?

Overall it’s difficult to argue against the use of technology in sport. Ultimately the better competitor on the day should win and not be robbed by a poor refereeing decision, but it’s use needs to be closely governed. Viewers at home certainly shouldn’t be able to act as a fourth official. But it may just mean that we have less to talk about in work on a Monday morning.