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Hawk-Eye's Here. Now We Await a Crucial Test.
by Paul Gardner, August 20th, 2013 12:58AM

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TAGS:  england, referees

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By Paul Gardner

For those who look to science as the ultimate arbiter for soccer's thorny problems, it has been a rather indecisive week. We have been getting our first look at the by-now famous, or notorious, goal-line technology, GLT. Which, just to complicate matters, is now to be known as Goal Decision System, GDS.

The English Premier League, awash with more money than it knows what to do with, decided that it would install a GDS at all of its 20 stadiums for use this season. So who cares about the installation costs -- reported to be $250,000 per stadium? And never mind that the occasions calling for its use -- i.e. to decide whether or not the ball has entered the goal -- would be rare, possibly even non-existent.

So, in all 10 EPL games this past weekend, the formidable Hawk-Eye GDS, with its computers and its six (it may be seven) cameras, was at work, tracking the trajectory of the ball whenever a shot on goal was taken. Did it serve any purpose? None whatever. There were no disputed goal-line calls.

That soccer failed to cooperate in providing the necessary incidents should not surprise. Soccer is like that. There is perversity in its very soul.

In the deplorable absence of the real thing, the EPL and the Hawk-Eye crew and the television people gave us instead, a faux -- incident. In the opening Liverpool-Stoke game, Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson smacked a shot off the post -- the ball rebounded and was clearly back in play before it hit the ground.

There was never any dispute here. A ball that hits the inside of the post and comes back into play cannot possibly have been over the goal line. No costly paraphernalia is necessary to work that out. Nevertheless, we got the works on TV, with several neat graphics of the goal frame, purporting to show the exact position of the ball (presumably down to some fraction of a millimeter), from various angles.

Impressive? I suppose so. But I find it less than totally convincing because we are looking at graphics that are evidently computer-generated. Can we trust them? Frankly, I can think of strong reasons -- based on the amazing creativity of the technology -- why we should not.

As the decision involved (and two more examples from later games) did not feature a tricky hair-line decision, we’ve no idea how a Hawke-Eye graphic will make that barely visible distance clear.

In the end, we’ve more or less decided that it doesn’t matter. We put our trust in Hawk-Eye -- whatever decision it makes, we’ll accept. This is certainly the practical approach, not least because we can assume that it gets rid of the possibility of bias when a human eye is involved.

But it is not science -- not unless the results are checked against an ultimate standard. In this case, it seems, the ultimate standard is Hawk-Eye itself. Hardly an objective standard, but one that will work if all parties accept it. Which everyone appears to have done -- and no doubt will continue to do until a glitch arrives.

Unfortunately, a glitch has arrived. Last weekend, while Hawk-Eye’s results in the EPL -- which had actually been of no practical value -- were being touted, things were panning out differently across the Irish Sea in Dublin. The sport was hurling, in which points can be scored by propelling the small ball over the crossbar and between the uprights of the H-shaped goalposts.

Controversies arise when the ball sails high and the goal line umpire has to decide whether the ball is still within a theoretical skyward extension of the 23-feet high goalposts.

On Sunday, an umpire decided the ball kept within the limits, and allowed the score. But Hawk-Eye over-ruled him. The embarrassment came when it was known that Hawk-Eye’s graphic agreed with the umpire. The Gaelic Athletic Association has temporarily suspended its use of the Hawk-Eye operation, while the reasons for the glitch are investigated. The GAA expresses confidence that the system will be “in full working order” by the coming weekend.

If we can assume that Hawk-Eye can operate glitch-free throughout the coming season, will it have been worth all the expense and the elaborate preparation? Last season’s EPL stats tell us that there were 31 disputed goal-line calls -- admittedly, rather more than I would have thought -- during the 380 games. Only three of those calls would have been reversed by Hawk-Eye, but it’s not clear whether those would have been game-changing reversals.

The opportunities for the new technology to show what it can do, then, are going to be rare. But when the crucial decision does arrive -- and you have to sense that there will be at least one -- GDS technology will have its day, and very likely silence its critics.


9 comments
  1. Allan Lindh
    commented on: August 20, 2013 at 1:58 a.m.
    Yes, but this is just the beginning. It is erroneous offside calls that decide many a game, and there is no reason that a hawkeye like system, or just good video replay can't do better than linespersons, who have an impossible job -- you just can't be looking in two places at the same time. Then the linespersons can do what they are supposed to do -- let play go unless they are positive there is an offside -- and hawkeye will allow the fourth official to decide otherwise if a goal is scored. (The fourth official is hardly overworked) Then the clowns that run the FA can use video review to punish severely vicious tackles and flagrant dives after the fact -- three game suspensions w/o pay. THEN the beautiful game can return to England, and TV ratings and revenues will go up with more scoring.

  1. Edward Purcell
    commented on: August 20, 2013 at 5:43 a.m.
    There was an immediate, correct application of the new GDS in the Chelsea 4 - Hull 1 game on Sunday. A Chelsea header (Ivanovic, I think) was partially blocked and then palmed out by the Hull goalie, and the ref knew immediately it was not a goal and allowed play to continue. The NBC commentator also reported immediately what was happening with GDS and a prompt replay showed only half the ball had passed over the goal line. And we also saw the coaches on the sideline discussing this immediate, correct, successful application of GDS.

  1. Kyle Lewis
    commented on: August 20, 2013 at 7:39 a.m.
    I couldn't disagree more, Mr. Gardner. While a previous poster got some of the details wrong, he called out a perfect example of the successful implementation of this technology. Ivanovic’s header looked to be over the line, both from my vantage point on the couch and – based on the reaction to the crowd – inside the stadium. The referee glanced at the alert-system on his wrist and indicated “no goal.” John Terry wryly pointed to his wrist in mock protest, and Jose Mourinho joked with the fourth official on the sideline. It was all over in less than 4 seconds. No protests, no extended stoppages in play, no players surrounding the referee.

  1. Charles O'Cain
    commented on: August 20, 2013 at 8:56 a.m.
    I agree Hawkeye will suppress protests and "decide" whether or not goals will be allowed. We must remember, however, that the pretty images we will see which "prove" the decisions of Hawkeye are correct are actually computer-generated re-creations, not raw footage. Naturally the computer will generate an image which "supports" the decision. It (the computer) will be wrong at times, as it is in tennis, where its use is infinitely more frequent. The difference in soccer is that there will be no "mark on the court" to demonstrate its fallibility. Some decisions are just too close to call, based on the available data, but I assume the computer (like the center ref) must make a decision, and seven eyes are probably better than four (assuming the linesman is perfectly positioned). Many,many more goals will be incorrectly allowed (or disallowed) based on erroneous decisions involving offside determinations, missed fouls, incorrect penalty decisions, etc., than will be decided by Hawkeye. This is part of human endeavor, a part of the game we must accept (and I enthusiastically do). The worst of all possible worlds would be the institution of a "challenge" system for any of the above calls, with its inevitable interruptions (think "commercial breaks") which plague almost every other televised sport.

  1. Kent James
    commented on: August 20, 2013 at 9:11 a.m.
    While it may not be perfect, having technology that is correct almost all the time is much better than forcing the AR to do the impossible; be even with the 2nd to last defender when the shot is taken (to judge offside) and then being on the goal line to see if the shot goes in. Not too many humans can do that. Additionally, giving that decision to computers takes out the possibility of favoritism, unless hackers can get to it....

  1. Gus Keri
    commented on: August 20, 2013 at 9:33 a.m.
    The only way to find out if the GDS is working fine is by placing TV cameras on the goal line and comparing the two images. Back to square one? Instead of talking about the referee if he gets it right, we will be talking about the GDS if it gets right. And the dialogue goes on.

  1. Millwall America
    commented on: August 20, 2013 at 10:12 a.m.
    Ahem, USA 4 Bosnia-Herzegovina 3. Gold Cup winners. Longest winning streak in CONCACAF history. Nothing to say, PG? That's okay, didn't expect anything. On the topic at hand, GDS seems to be doing a brilliant job. 31 contested decisions in 380 games is just about one contested decision per week and we should therefore expect GDS to get a workout over the season. And what do you know, we had a contested decision during the first week with Chelsea v Hull. GDS kept the game moving, all players & coaches accepted the contested result with nothing but a few jokes and shrugs and the game went on. Exactly what was hoped for and a great outcome.

  1. David Sterling
    commented on: August 20, 2013 at 11:18 a.m.
    Love it. Gardner's age is apparently catching up to him, or it's the fact that he loathes Chelsea and everything about the English game. The system worked brilliantly, and as was mentioned above, only one mocking by JT - who else would have done it? Looking forward to it the rest of the season.

  1. Ramon Creager
    commented on: August 22, 2013 at 7:51 p.m.
    Agree with Allan Lindh. Bad offside calls determine far more outcomes than the occasional close call at the goal line. Trouble is, I don't see how technology can help all that much, unless it is to somehow tell the AR exactly when the ball was played, so that he doesn't have to see two things at once. How would the tech account for players "not involved"? That is a judgment call, one that may prove too difficult for a machine. As for Chelsea/Hull, seriously? Come back when HawkEye determines a 1-nil game between the big boys. Don't get me wrong, it's nice that Hull didn't get screwed at least that one time, but really the game has far bigger problems. Distributing revenues more fairly would do wonders to improve the EPL, La Liga, & other lopsided leagues.


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