Another Euro 2012 misadventure, another colossal collapse of common sense

On Monday, in this column, I ridiculed soccer’s attempt to make vital decisions based on supposedly accurate measurement of infinitesimally small distances. On Tuesday, a mere 20 hours later, my strictures were vindicated in the most emphatic way when Euro 2012 came up with an absolutely perfect illustration of the nonsense I was railing against.
This time it was the Ukraine, co-host of the tournament and playing against England, that got right royally screwed. In a brief “set-piece” (a favorite phrase among our TV brethren these days) -- it lasted all of two seconds -- Marko Devic’s shot spun up off the England goalkeeper Joe Hart and headed towards the empty net. Defender John Terry arrived to kick the ball “off the line” -- but the replays (never mind one’s own impression) make it clear that ball was already over the line.
But it wasn’t a goal.
What makes this particular incident the perfect example of just how fatuous these decisions can get is that it occurred under what are supposed to be the ideal circumstances for preventing such calamities.
The tournament is being played with two extra officials, the additional assistant referees (AARs), one positioned on each goal line. And the main reason why those extra officials are there, the very impetus for creating them in the first place, is to be in the perfect position to make instant decisions on whether the ball enters, or does not enter, the goal. They owe their existence to UEFA president Michel Platini who -- along with many others -- does not like the idea of using goal-line technology (GLT), and thinks that these AARs can do the job equally well. Well this one, a Hungarian, maybe the first ever AAR to be put in the spotlight with a chance to show just how helpful they can be, and he made a dreadful hash of things.
There he is, ideally positioned, just 10 yards away from the ball, staring intently at the action, straight down the goal line, yet he can’t see that the ball is over the line. But surely, he can see that a huge proportion of the ball is over the line -- he must  be able to see that. So he’s telling us that while the ball might have been 99 percent over the line, he was able to judge, instantly, that 1 percent of the ball was overhanging the goal line. So, no goal.
This is just breath-taking silliness. The AAR’s failure would be much more forgivable if the replays and the stills were not so telling. The ball is over the line. One can only assume that this AAR has been completely taken in by all the nonsense that he will have grown up with, listening to that constant refrain of “all the ball must be over all the line.”
Maybe, after years of referee training encouraging you to believe that such a distinction can accurately be made in the heat and scramble of a game, maybe after all that, when you’re put in charge of making critical decisions with such an impossibly fine margin of error .. . . well, I’m quite willing to believe that you can suffer a colossal collapse of common sense and make crazy decisions like this one.
If the belief has been instilled that you actually can make such impossibly demanding judgments, then I suppose there will exist AARs who feel confident they can tell the difference in the position of a moving ball between it overlapping the goal line by one millimeter, or being one millimeter beyond the line.
Of course, they’re wrong, pathetically so. But they are, sad to say, only doing what they’re told to do. Normally, when intelligent people are ordered to do something that is clearly impossible (and will get pilloried if they don’t get it right) you might expect them to raise loud objections. Not a word from our trusty referees. Not a word from our famous IFAB either, the rusty committee that FIFA likes to hail as “the guardians of the game.”
GLT looms anyway. This Euro 2012 misadventure will presumably hasten its arrival. IFAB is going to make the decision, which is itself a huge joke. The decision should be made by a competent body, not a group of soccer politicians who meet only twice a year.
The antis, led with decreasing conviction by Sepp Blatter, have basically run out of objections. Not that there arguments were ever that great anyway. How many times have I listened to Blatter or other FIFA guys go on about the importance of “real time,” that any system must show instantly whether ball was in the net, because the game cannot be stopped to look at a replay. Why not? Well, because the other team might go storming off to the other end of the field and score a goal, which you might have to call back. It was disappointing to hear Michael Ballack -- who has been eminently sensible and informative on the ESPN telecasts -- roll out that argument.
I’ve been watching this sport for nearly 70 years, all over the world, and I have no recollection of ever having seen a disputed goal-line call at one end followed immediately by a goal at the other. No doubt it has happened -- but it must be very, very rare.
It has also been argued that GLT should not be used as it could not possibly be afforded by about 90 percent of the soccer world and would therefore create an elite group playing by different rules. An argument that cannot be denied, but can only be countered by doing away with the pro game.
A more serious objection would arise if it could be shown that referees themselves are against GLT. A poll among first division referees from the world’s top soccer countries could settle that -- but who ever heard of such a thing? Referees finding a voice? That’s something else that, regrettably, I’ve found to be pretty rare in this sport.
GLT will be expensive, of course -- so someone is going to make money out of this. I doubt whether it will be any more accurate -- in absolute terms -- than focused human eyes. But it will -- one presumes -- be consistent in its decisions. It will not suffer a mental breakdown at the crucial moment.

18 comments about "Another Euro 2012 misadventure, another colossal collapse of common sense".
  1. Glenn Auve, June 20, 2012 at 7:18 a.m.

    While I agree that this was missed, are you going to just completely ignore the missed call that immediately led up to this chance where the Ukrainian player was clearly offside? I wanted the English to lose as much as the next guy, but in this case maybe two wrongs made a right.

  2. Chance Hall, June 20, 2012 at 8:29 a.m.

    This is one of the reasons soccer is not one of the most watched sports in this country. This was also one of the most exciting plays of the game. Can you imagine how the game might have changed if the correct call had been made? It could have changed the boring English game of "protect the goal" to a real game of soccer with both teams actually trying to score. The ball clearly went completely over the line, and was certainly a goal. I have no clue why the AAR didn't rule it a goal. He seemed to be in the right position to make the call, but he didn't. I just didn't see the offside, but then I'm not being paid to see it.

  3. Charles O'Cain, June 20, 2012 at 9:46 a.m.

    Did Mr Gardner really watch this match? Or just the edited super-slo-mo replay of the "goal" itself? It was not scored from a "set piece", but rather from a counter attack, and the attacking player was clearly offside ("full body", not just some small part of his anatomy - this supposedly highly-rated official team seemed to have trouble with this throughout the match). Did Mr Gardner see this with his eagle eyes, or was his vision blurred by his anti-Brit bias (and did he see Lampard's much much unequivocal goal against Germany several years ago, or was that too close for him to call)? The Ukraine ball did cross the line but was not a goal because the play was offside. The AAR could not determine that the whole ball crossed in real time, possibly for a variety of reasons: speed of play; width of goalpost and head position, especially if the AAR was "left eye dominant"; the ball and Terry's socks and boot were white, making it that much harder to determine the exact margin of the ball. This is the human element of the game, and one we must not relinquish to any sort of machine or technology. Why have goal line technology unless you're going to review the onside/offside aspect? And every foul? And every card? Why not have a panel of experts (Mr Gardner included, of course) review the match the following day and let us know on a blog somewhere which team really won? Let the game flow, and accept there will be errors of all sorts from all of the humans involved in the contest, as well as moments of blissful brilliance. That's the true joy (and the agony) of the game. The world knows this, even if the US is permanently wedded to its technology-burdened, replay-bound, commercially interrupted and disrupted excuses for televised sports.

  4. jose i diaz f, June 20, 2012 at 11:14 a.m.

    This is the eternal debate between the spirit of the game vs the right the end Ucrania need to win by 2.. in this one the spirit prevails...

  5. Hal Hilger, June 20, 2012 at 11:52 a.m.

    Mr. Gardner obviously wants the same useless rules as with American Football.
    Let the referee decide and make the decision as he sees it. Besides it seems, Mr.Gardner only sees what he wants to see or has very little knowledge with the game of soccer.

  6. John Soares, June 20, 2012 at 12:11 p.m.

    I think it was a missed call... s*** happens. It would "maybe" have changed the game. But that can be said for every touch. How many clear, relatively easy scoring opportunities were missed in the first half alone!? England did not "deserve" this win. It's not the first time the better team lost. AND Sidney, a bad call is NOT the reason soccer is not the most watched game in America. That would imply that there are no bad or controversial calls made in other sports. They happen every year in every sport and yet they have all survive.

  7. Saverio Colantonio, June 20, 2012 at 12:52 p.m.

    While we install goal line technology, why not install cameras up above and catch all the wrongly called offsides, missed fouls, player simulations, balls in and out of touch. We should be able to have some kind of technology that we could get red of the referees (ARs and goal judges). We could even make money on this technology and adapt it to baseball where there are too many mistakes by umpires calling strikes, balls and outs. Let's get real here. As much as I don't like many of these mistakes this is a sport played and officiated by imperfect humans. What needs to be looked at is getting corruption of the game w

  8. ROBERT BOND, June 20, 2012 at 2:17 p.m.

    check espn-seth wants it-play it in tron.....

  9. Ramon Creager, June 21, 2012 at 10:16 a.m.

    The real problem is a failure of nerve on the part of the AAR to make an important call in an important game. ARs rarely hesitate to call a ball out of touch even though it's not clear that the entire ball did not go over the entire line. I think AARs could be trained to be more decisive and comfortable in that role. It's still new, after all. And one thing FIFA could do is to prohibit player socks and shoes the same color as the game ball. Even in pics it's difficult to see where Terry ends and the ball begins. But lets get something crystal clear: the whole "the ball must be entirely over the entire line is a bad standard because it causes it to be a game of millimeters" argument is the wrong argument because no matter what standard you use, you will have a close call, so let's put that one to rest and not hear it any more! Please! If the standard where "any fraction of the ball over any fraction of the line" the problem would just shift from the backside of the goal to the front side, where players are more likely to obstruct the view; and the AAR/AR would still have problems. Bah. How is that better? As for GLT. I hate the idea of expensive GLT because it would do NOTHING for the vast majority of us, who would thus have to go on living with the problem; whereas an AAR solution is actually doable at all levels.

  10. Ramon Creager, June 21, 2012 at 10:40 a.m.

    I also think that before UEFA and national leagues spend any sums of money on GLT instead of trying to bring more parity to their leagues (which is a much more serious issue) we ought to take a breather and figure out whether this is really a problem. What, for instance, is the incidence of wrongly called goals/no-goals per game? Per goal scored? I've been watching, playing, coaching and refereeing this game for a few decades now and I only remember a handful of prominent cases, and even fewer in the games I've been involved in. Now, I realize this is an opinion piece; but I'd be happy if instead SA or others would present a decent study of the problem in, say, MLS, the EPL or La Liga.

  11. Ramon Creager, June 21, 2012 at 4:37 p.m.

    Just watching the Portugal v. Czech Republic game; it seems to me that positioning of AAR is not optimum. On Ronaldo's goal AAR was on same side as AR (why?? potentially blocks the view of the AR and is covering same sector as AR); he was on the goal line, but standing near the edge of the penalty box. This is too far, I think. On the other side of the AR, and near the goal box, if possible, would be better.

  12. I w Nowozeniuk, June 21, 2012 at 5:59 p.m.

    After watching several replays of the goal/no-goal, the AR is lined up square on the post which in effect is blocking his full view if the goal line/ball. In MHO, the AR is not properly placed and this outcome needs to be re-examined by FIFA to get goal line technology which can validate a questionable goal in 15 seconds or less while the goal scorer and his teammates celebrate(?). More disappointing is the plethora of cameras on the pitch which zig zag among player facials and ground level spots without purpose and causes out of synch eyeball strain for the TV viewer.

  13. Ramon Creager, June 22, 2012 at 11:02 a.m.

    I w Nowozeniuk, I noticed that too. The AR was sighting along the *front* of the goal post, when the important part is the *back* of the goal post, due to the rule (that the entire ball must cross the entire line). (This replay, at the 40s mark, provides an excellent view of his mistake: Because he was doing it wrong the goal post would most certainly interfere with his view and he probably never saw the entire ball clear the post. When done correctly, i.e. sighting along the back of the posts, the goal posts don't interfere at all: they are indeed the reference (being the same thickness as the goal line), defining the plane (on the back side, not front of the posts!) that the ball must cross in its entirety. This may seem a matter of millimeters, but it is not: due to geometry sighting along the front when it is really the back that matters makes the error worse the closer to the goal the AR is and the farther the ball is from the near post; and in this case the AR was close (near the edge of the 6-yard box). Anyone who has ever shot a rifle knows that getting the sight picture wrong can cause a miss by a large margin, which is what happened here. The good news is that this is bad technique and therefore can be fixed.

  14. Bill Anderson, June 22, 2012 at 11:06 a.m.

    Ramon Creager, Great insight about the positioning of the AAR. He should be on the opposite side of the field as the AR. The other point you made about the reticence of the AAR to make a call is also important for all to consider. The pecking order of officials makes the AAR the least important man on the field. The psychological hurdle the AAR must clear to make that call is immense. Training and trust amongst the entire crew is going to have to be increased so that they have the confidence to make the correct call.

  15. Carlos Thys, June 23, 2012 at 7:41 a.m.

    I believe that the placement of the goalline officials on the same side as the ARs is to keep them better in the view of the match referee. As all know, the match referee is to run his diagonal -- all game long. And his diagonal path is to keep the play of the match between him and his ARs on the touchlines. So, in these early days of inserting and testing and working out the bugs with the goal line officials, they've placed both on the same side. Yet, as was well pointed out above, these goal line officials can and will continue to mar the view of the linesmen. It should be noted that this was previously a role for the linesmen. Part of their responsibilities was to note whether a ball crossed inside the post. To avoid sighting problems with the ball over the line, how difficult would it be to always use the brightly yellow colored balls that often featured in the EPL and sometimes in La Liga? The posts are white in color; let's use a contrasting ball color to better aid the visuals for all, shall we? Blaze orange anyone? I think that just as the match officiating crew has to be in a shirt color that distinguishes them from the 22 players, so too should the ball be a distinct color to better aid all concerned: The players, the officials, and, yes, the paying fans who write the paychecks for all of the above mentioned overpaid ones.

  16. Bill Anderson, June 24, 2012 at 12:01 p.m.

    Carlos, great idea about the balls. It would make sense from an officials standpoint, and would also be a marketing success for Adidas. They make tons of money on their "Official Match Balls", and would likely increase sales if there were multiple options. Neon Lime Green, Neon Orange, Neon Yellow, and the Traditional White.

  17. Carlos Thys, June 25, 2012 at 5:44 a.m.

    Thank you, Mr. Anderson. To best see how clearly constrasting colors enhance the sporting spectacle and its adjudication, one look no further than what the Spanish are doing with their annual clay court championship hosted in Madrid. The Spanish know that they play second fiddle to Paris' French Open, so they've decided to jazz it up a bit. And oh how good it looks. This year the sand was a very fine royal blue. Factor in the white lines marking the court and then the contastring neon yellow of the balls and one has a very optically appealing sports venue. More importantly, this aids the players, the umpires, and the fans both in the tennis stadium and those at home who can now better appreciate the accuracy of certain players who routinely place the balls on the lines. To put this in perspective, think Wimbelton of old. For years they stuck with the traditional white balls on the grass that almost turned a yellowish pale white with white marked lines. Once they went to the neon yellow balls, things immediately became easier for all concerned. It is the same in other ball sports, just like the one we love: Football/soccer/calcio/futbol. Though I truly prefer the traditional all white balls, this makes no sense when one has field lines that are white and goalposts that are white (with netting that is white). Mr. Anderson is correct; ball makers like Adidas, Nike, Puma, Select, Diadora, Brine, and Umbro will benefit. Always choose a bright color ball (bright pastel really) that is distinctly different than anything that any GK or field player has on for shorts and socks. This tiny step alone will do much to aid these very close, split-second decisions. Now...where do I pick up my royalties checks from these ball makers?

  18. Dan Phillips, June 26, 2012 at 1:07 a.m.

    There are so many things FIFA needs to change to make soccer more apealing to US fans who want to see more goal scoring. No. 1, get rid of the offside rule. Make teams come back and cover their man. If they get out run, too bad. This would eliminate the flaghappy
    sideline refs. No. no substitutions after 85th minute. This would eliminate stalling for time with ridulous subs who would only play a couple of minutes. #3 official scoreboard clock. Refs neverr get the toppage time right. So stop electronic clock when there are injuries. # 4 sudden death overtime with unlimited substitution until someone wins, No PK's. And #5 instant replays of contraversial goals. Will FIFA ever institute these changes and move into the the 21st Century? Of course not. They're a bunch of stodgy old farts!

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