Andrew Allen1 Comment

VISION: ON?

Andrew Allen1 Comment

Is everything about to become.....clearer?

It will go down in history as a defining moment in the evolution of the beautiful game. Sunday June 27, 2010 – England are playing Germany in the second round of the World Cup in Bloemfontein, South Africa. Having gone 2-0 down to clinical finishes by Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski, Fabio Capello’s side have scrapped their way back into contention following a successful Matthew Upson header. The minutes before half-time are crucial, another quick goal could consolidate a shift in momentum. And then it happens…

A pass played into England striker Jermain Defoe is deflected back into the path of Frank Lampard on the edge of the German penalty area. In one neat movement the Chelsea man instantly controls the adidas Jabulani ball on his chest and dinks a looping volley goalwards. The shot is delightfully executed. Dipping over stranded keeper Manuel Neuer the ball clips the bar and falls a foot over the goal line.

The midfielder wheels away raising his hands in celebration. The England fans in the Free State Stadium release a roar worthy of the three Lions on their chest. Almost simultaneously, warm lager soars into the air of sweaty pubs back home as crumpled plastic cups are gripped tight with ecstasy. 2- 2 and it’s game on.

Except it’s not. Looking unfazed Neuer gathers the ball as it bounces back into the six-yard box and clears up field. Play continues. Unbelievably, the referee and his assistants believe the ball has not crossed the line. Confusion in the terraces gives way to consternation and then anger.

Sitting in the VIP seats FIFA president Sepp Blatter turns his head to the nearest monitor where replays immediately reveal the mistake made by the Uruguayan officials. An innocent human error? Yes. One that could have been corrected in an instant? Most definitely. One that was? No.

In the end England were routed 4-1. Nevertheless, despite the comprehensive win for Die Mannschaft, the wiggle room for ‘ghost goal’ hypothesising saw the arguments in favour of goal line technology given another airing. For months after the tournament the debate raged, until finally, after lengthy consultation behind closed doors, FIFA decided to act.

In July last year it was announced by FIFA’s rule-making body, the International Football Association Board (IFAB), that nine European companies had been invited to demonstrate the accuracy of their respective goal–line technology systems. Examined by the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA), FIFA confirmed that scrutiny would fall on “a broad range of criteria, in both daylight and floodlit conditions.”

While it is not the first occasion that experiments have been sanctioned by FIFA – a full-scale test of a system presented by Adidas subsidiary Cairos was used as far back as the 2005 under-17 World Cup – there is a strong feeling that after years of dodging the issue, enough of the major figures at the top of the game are committed to finding a successful solution.

Although football’s governing body has remained coy on a precise date for implementation of those systems which meet their criteria, Blatter admitted in December that it is possible that goal-line technology could be in use in certain domestic leagues as soon as next season.

“There are now systems that combine precision, speed and are uncomplicated,” he told German newspaper Bild. “We are now in the testing phase and the IFAB will vote in March 2012 in London over using this resource. If the final decision is made, it can be used from the 2012-13 season.”

It’s a pronouncement which Tom Adams, supervising editor at Eurosport-Yahoo!, believes is long overdue.

“If, as the various companies vying for FIFA’s approval say, the decision can be made instantaneously then there is no excuse not to embrace the technology as, crucially, it won’t have any impact on the flow of the match. Why remain stuck in the dark ages for no good reason?

“Instantaneous decisions, relayed immediately to the referee, won’t change the game at all, aside from eradicating the sporadic injustices that currently occur due to a lack of technology.”

The International Federation of Professional Footballers (FIFPro) agrees. Nevertheless, despite players advocating change, purists question whether increased reliance on technology could lead to future problems.

Reflecting on the necessity of goal line technology Michael Cox, the editor of tactics blog Zonal Marking, draws particular attention to the infrequency of ‘ghost goals’.

“[The debate about] ‘Whether the ball went over the line’ arises so little in football that I don’t think it would make much of an improvement to the game,” he told Human’s Invent.

“As someone basically opposed to TV replays etc., I’d be worried it would be the thin end of the wedge and could lead to more technology in the game, thus slowing it down too much.”  It’s a worry which Michel Platini, president of UEFA, often emphasises whenever he is quizzed on the subject.

So what do we know about the systems currently being considered and what are the specifics of the tests which EMPA are carrying out?

Well, as you might expect with FIFA, much is shrouded in mystery. None of the nine shortlisted companies who registered to take part in the latest tender process have been formally named, although three, Cairos Technologies AG, Goalminder and Hawk-Eye, are, by their own admission, taking part. Systems funded by the Italian Football Association and Swiss watch specialists Longines and Tag Heuer are also thought to have been invited having been name-checked in the build-up to previous trials.

Interestingly the methods proposed by the aforementioned companies are very different, although all participating parties must adhere to four basic requirements. First, and most obviously, the technology must be able to determine whether a goal has been scored. Second, it must be accurate. Third it should take only one second to make a decision and finally the referee should be notified of a goal by both a visual and vibrating signal on a specially configured watch.

For the two men who have pioneered the Goalminder technology the solution to goal line controversy is as simple as instantaneously processing information from specially position cameras. Having worked tirelessly on their solution for 14 years British duo David Parden and Harry Barnes believe that 24 cameras implanted in the frame of the goal can deliver the results that FIFA are after. The basic tenet of their system is that covering the goal line from every possible angle rules out the perceived guesswork of other ‘non-visual’ systems, while also providing the moneymen at television companies an exciting new viewpoint for their live broadcasts.

The system was subjected to 13 hours of intense testing in November with EMPA officials using a ball-shooting machine to test its ability to detect goals scored in an empty net and one guarded by an impact wall. A further ‘sled test’ which involved a ball being hand-rolled across the goal line with the aid of parallel rods was also used to replicate the close-call incidents which have so often cause headaches for match officials.

In order to progress to a second round of testing in March, Goalminder – and the other eight systems – must have displayed 100% of the shots into an empty net correctly and achieved a success rate of at least 90% in the impact-wall and sled tests.

Used to great effect in both tennis and cricket, Hawk-Eye technology is already familiar to most sports fans. Using the principles of triangulation, the system functions by analysing both visual images and timing data to chart the trajectory of a moving ball. Great at spotting an LBW decision at Lords or correcting a bad line call at Wimbledon, the Sony-owned company are now thought to be major contenders for a licence from FIFA.

Adapting their equipment for football, the team at Hawk-Eye believe that positioning six cameras around the goal, each programmed to recognise the ball as the ‘object of interest’ as opposed to the goalkeeper or other players, ensures that goals are recognised instantly with the referee notified inside 0.5 seconds. Asserting that the human brain can too easily be tricked by what it thinks it sees via television cameras, pioneer Dr. Paul Hawkins claims that Hawk-Eye is the definitive way of ascertaining the truth.

Speaking to the Daily Record last December, he stated: “It’s highly possible to watch an incident on TV and believe the ball is definitely over the line and be deceived. TV pictures can be very deceptive, especially if the ball is along the ground.

“The human brain is complex and sometimes it can appear the entire ball has gone over the line but in reality it hasn’t gone over the line at that point.

“I have spent a long time in goalmouths testing the system and it’s incredible just how deceptive it is. There are those in sport who believe football is a better game when the human element and error are a part of it. But we will provide a service if it’s a service which football wants.”

While the use of cameras represents one avenue of investigation, another involves inserting a microchip into the match ball. As has already been touched upon, FIFA sanctioned the use of Cairos goal line technology seven years ago as they tentatively broached the subject at the under-17 World Cup in Peru. At the time the system was deemed too slow and lacking in accuracy, although the company’s ‘smart ball’ was again tested amidst great fanfare at the 2007 World Club Cup in Japan.

Five years on and it appears the Adidas-backed firm have grown in confidence after further honing their kit. While Christian Holzer, Head of Business Development at Cairos, has long insisted that housing a chip in the centre of the ball makes no difference to the performance of the ball itself or to the players, he is also adamant that his company’s machinery, “is 100% accurate and adds fairness to the game.”

Working in tandem with a magnetic field created by cables placed under the playing turf of the penalty area, the sensor in the ball sends measured and encrypted data to antennas behind the goal. They in turn forward the information to a computer, which determines if a goal has been scored.

The system is a cheaper option than those proposed by rivals, coming in at around £150,000 to set up, as opposed to the £250,000 it would cost to implement Hawk-Eye.

That being said it appears costing isn’t a primary concern for FIFA who will likely suggest that separate leagues and associations organise their own sponsorship deals to fund whichever system most appeals to them.

As The FA’s general secretary, Alex Horne, made clear before Christmas, “There’s not going to be one technology for all of world football. Multiple technologies, if they meet the criteria, will be available … and people will buy.”

Today, the IFAB convened for their 126th annual meeting in London where they announced that Hawk-Eye and Goal-Ref were in line for a second round of tests. Four months from now, in the aftermath of Euro 2012, a final decision on whether to adopt the technology, and any successful tenders, will be made.

Watch this space…

Andrew Allen is a freelance sports writer who founded The Arsenal Collective. You can follow him on Twitter @AAllenSport.

This article first appeared on Human’s Invent in February 2012.

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