Football gets its Hawkeye

January 8, 2018
WG Grace
This week, football’s new video assessment system reaches cup competitions in England. Will we learn from experiences in other sports?
Technology was accepted for lines-calls in tennis some years ago. It has also been introduced into cricket, and Rugby (both codes). LWD followed the emergence of Hawkeye in tennis, and one post has been studied as a business leadership case.
The changes were mostly accepted, perhaps grudgingly from those with a yearning for the romance of earlier days. Football now seems likely to follow a similar trajectory of initial controversy followed by eventual acceptance. There will almost certainly be learning from experience.
The new football system has been tested in Italy for around a hundred matches. It seems that the video referee is called into action in about 25% of matches. This is in contrast to the approach followed by rugby, when the hold-ups are incessant, and where referees are now conditioned to check every possible infringement,or point-scoring opportunity.
Tennis and cricket have opted for a limited number of player appeals. The approaches has been linked to spectator involvement following the game on large viewing screens, and rather naff graphics in cricket.
The problem I see is a concern by official bodies to obtain the ‘technically correct’ decision. This may be influenced by the financial swings hanging on a single decision.  In tennis, this means the evidence for a ball being hit in (including on) the line, or outside the line. The technology tends to be trusted to a precision that is not possible for the human eye of even the best umpires. A similar state of affairs holds in cricket where the technology reveals the slightest of contact with ball on bat, which would influence a decision for caught or LBW (out for the ball striking the player’s pads according to complex rules known as leg before wicket).
The current systems reduce uncertainties of human error to plausible ‘right or wrong’ decisions.  We are not quite at the limits of uncertainty according to the scientific principle formulated by Heisenberg, but not precise enough to make practical debate futile.
A better way?
There is a modification to this approach which seems better to me. The technology could be used to avoid obvious errors, rather than resolve minuscule quibbles over the slightest of touches of a ball on a bat, or whether  a ball has gone beyond the line (of a football or tennis playing area , or marginally forward in a passing sequence in rugby (one of the game’s delights cut short too often at present.)
Will the new system being introduced resolve controversy about decisions by the officials? Not according to one Italian expert describing their footballing experience. Are the fans happy? Only if the decision is in their team’s favour, he replied with a sigh.