GLT still a blurry area for FIFA

By Paul Gardner

The GLT -- goal line technology -- saga has been going on for well over a decade now, with FIFA adopting a ludicrous chameleon mode, dithering between a flat-out no, a coy maybe, and a reluctant yes -- with many a backtrack along the way.

At the start, Sepp Blatter was fiercely anti -- "As long as I am president I will make sure that no technical help will be introduced in refereeing ...” That was Blatter in 2002. His reasoning was not always totally clear, but its determination to keep technology out of the game undoubtedly had a robust populist appeal. No robots! -- “We have to rely on human beings -- and human beings make mistakes ... To introduce technical items -- no. This will destroy an essential element of our game -- the emotion.”

Blatter maintained his virulent opposition but by 2010, as the World Cup approached, he had changed his reasons for not liking GLT. He had discovered that GLT could be “very expensive,” he warned that approving GLT could “open the floodgates” to more and more electronic controls, and he was now saying that GLT was wrong because -- given the high costs of installing the system -- it would mean that not everyone could be playing under the same rules: “The game must be played in the same way no matter where you are in the world.”

That last statement did not make much sense -- by “rules” he evidently meant “conditions,” and everyone knew that the dusty, bumpy, unlined fields of most amateur soccer throughout the world were already vastly different from La Liga or the EPL.

Blatter’s opposition had reached its end point. After a couple of monumentally wrong decisions during the 2010 World Cup (ironically, so blatant that they had no need of intricate technology to expose them), Blatter announced that FIFA would “reopen the file” on GLT. Blatter’s U-turn was now complete -- “as soon as we have a safe, fast and uncomplicated goal indicator, we will use it” he announced. Since then, it has -- apparently -- been a matter of testing various technologies to pinpoint the most reliable. So far, two systems -- Hawk-Eye and GoalRef -- have been approved.

But what on earth are we to make of the latest FIFA statement on GLT? It states, unequivocally, that GLT will be used next year during the World Cup in Brazil. But which system? If we thought that FIFA, which has conducted lengthy testing of various systems, had ruled out all except Hawk-Eye and GoalRef, we were evidently wrong. In Brazil, it might be Hawk-Eye that gets used, it might be GoalRef -- or it might be neither, because FIFA, at this late stage, has invited other manufacturers to submit their competing systems for testing. A move that -- at the least -- suggests that FIFA is not entirely happy with either Hawkeye or GoalRef.

This is puzzling. In this same statement, FIFA tells us that GLT will be used in Brazil following “a successful implementation of goal-line technology (GLT) at the Club World Cup in Japan in December 2012.” For that tournament, both Hawk-Eye and GoalRef were used. Successfully. Or so FIFA would have us believe.

But what can “successfully” mean? It’s worth pausing for a moment to focus on what GLT is designed to do. It has only one function. To resolve -- immediately -- those cases where the ball may or not have entered the goal. These are moments when a goal-bound shot is kicked or scrambled away by defenders, or where the ball hits the goal-frame (usually the cross bar) and bounces on to, or possibly over, the goal line.

That’s it -- GLT has no other function. Now, these disputed goal line moments are rare, very rare, in soccer. I do not recall any such goal-line incidents in the Club World Cup. Which can only mean that the two GLT systems did not face the one set of circumstances that they are designed to resolve. In other words, the GLT was never tested at all. So how can FIFA claim success in its use?

And they are talking about “use” here -- the word they use is “implementation.” I rather suspect they mean “successful installation” -- which is, no doubt, a complicated business. But it is not an achievement that tells us whether the system works or not.

The word “installation” does crop up in the FIFA statement, but in a mightily confused sentence. Talking of the 2014 World Cup and this year’s Confederations Cup (also in Brazil) FIFA states that "The aim is to use GLT in order to support the match officials and to install a system in all stadia, pending the successful installation, and pre-match referee tests."

No, I don’t understand what “to install a system in all stadia, pending the successful installation” means. Nor do I know what to make of “referee tests,” though the phrase does suggest that “successful” referees will be the ones who work best with the technology. Which sounds like a step toward robot referees -- the very thing that Blatter found so objectionable back in 2010.

Yikes! Not another Blatter U-turn, please!

5 comments about "GLT still a blurry area for FIFA".
  1. Mark Landefeld, February 19, 2013 at 9:20 p.m.

    And here I thought with the Robbie Rodgers announcement/retirement, FIFA was going to take on attitudes about the "other" GLT

  2. Doug Wiggins, February 20, 2013 at 1:59 a.m.

    Blatter (foot-in-mouth) has once again made the Administration of International Soccer (FIFA,) the laughing stock of all debate societies throughout the world.

  3. Carl Walther, February 20, 2013 at 11:47 a.m.

    Paul, Your questions about the reasoning behind these contradictory statements by 'Blather' and FIFA officials, is based on a false premise. That they are intelligent people. That just isn't the case.

  4. Ramon Creager, February 20, 2013 at 9:25 p.m.

    Why is GLT, unproven and untested, the best option? I know this has its critics but I think that the AAR idea is fundamentally a good one. No need for technology (apart from the radios); and what AAR would have missed calling Lampard's goal in 2010? Or Mendes' infamous ghost goal (Totenham v. Man U. '05: Those are the ones we want to catch. I know of only one goal missed by the AAR (a close one that ironically this time benefited England at Ukraine's cost, at the last Euros); that was due to bad technique on his part. That can be fixed. Another option is to combine the AAR with a human video ref. The AAR could request a second look at a close one. Otherwise, if it's too damn close to call, then maybe it shouldn't be a goal. And if you think the AAR isn't perfect, wait 'till GLT awards a goal that shouldn't have been one in an important game.

  5. Ramon Creager, February 20, 2013 at 9:32 p.m.

    One more thought on the AAR system. It is unrealistic to expect a system to work perfectly right out of the box when it isn't being used regularly in league play (I don't count Europa League and UCL as regular use). This system should be in use in all major leagues in Europe and elsewhere. Only then will proper technique have a chance to be developed. Right now it is a novelty, for players, spectators, and especially the referees.

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