Soccer goes overboard with star-wars system

By Paul Gardner

We know that Michel Platini doesn’t think much of goal line technology. He prefers his system of using extra assistant referees, one at each end, patrolling the goal line.
Which can be seen as a simple case of preferring men over machines. It sounds good, put like that =- not least because, on the whole, that is a philosophy that I find attractive. I’d very much like to whole-heartedly back these additional assistant referees, the AARs, but dammit, they’re not helping their own cause. There was that utterly ridiculous call in Euro 2012 that denied the Ukraine a goal against England, and more recently we had a worryingly confused call in the Celtic-Juventus UCL game.
Platini’s claim for the AARs that “they see everything” is simply too extravagant. We can expect humans to make errors -- but with those extra pair of eyes, we can expect that there will be fewer errors.
Set against that, we have the implied claim of GLT that it will get every call right. We don’t know whether that it will work that perfectly, because it has yet to be tested. I mean tested under real game conditions in major tournaments.
I remain totally baffled by FIFA’s claim that two GLT systems were “successfully tested” at the recent World Club Cup in Japan. As there were no disputed goal-line calls in that tournament -- and, remember, that is the only use for this technology, the only occasion for which it is needed -- then what can they have been “successfully” testing? Installation?  Bleeps on monitors? Communication with the referees?
The list could be much longer, this is undoubtedly a highly technical set up. Which brings me to an aspect of GLT that has been present right from the start, but which has never been fully spelled out. The cost.
How much will it cost to rig up a stadium with a GLT system?  How much to maintain it, to constantly check that it is in perfect working order -- even though it may  never be used. Because disputed goal-line incidents -- especially crucial ones - are rare occurrences in soccer. I don’t have any stats, I can’t find any, relating to the frequency -- and that in itself, in this stat-driven age, is rather odd.
We return to Platini, and this time -- rather than making sweeping “they see everything” claims, he is making much more sense. He is talking money. GLT, he says, is too expensive for UEFA to use in the Champions League: “It would cost around $69 million over five years,” he says, noting that it would have to be installed in 280 stadiums, and then “removed for domestic games.” I don’t know where he gets that 280 stadiums figure from nor do I understand why the system, once installed, has to be removed. Whatever, the key number is the $69 million -- “Quite expensive,” says Platini “for the sort of mistake that happens once every 40 years.”
Once every 40 years is no doubt an understatement, though probably not by much. We don’t have those stats ... and, even more strangely, we don’t have an accurate estimate of how much these GLT systems cost. FIFA has been evasive and coy on the matter. At the most recent IFAB meeting, secretary general Jerome Valcke stonewalled money questions, saying there were different prices for different systems, all six-figure, “Some the lowest six figures, others higher.” And it never seemed clear whether he was talking Euros or dollars.
Over a decade ago, when GLT was in its infancy, I was given a guesstimate of the cost as a rather staggering $250,000 per stadium. Maybe nothing’s changed. If you take Platini’s 280 stadiums and do the multiplication at $250,000 per -- you come up with $70 million, pretty well exactly Platini’s total.
That sort of expense to guard against a very rare occurrence must lead to the “Do we need this?” or “Is there anything cheaper?” questions. Of course, there’s a cheaper alternative. Simply using standard TV replays, which are already available in almost every stadium, virtually instant these days, and pretty sophisticated.
But FIFA, originally so opposed to any replays at all, has wedged itself into a corner over this, by insisting that a replay system won’t work -- the referee has to know instantly, in real time if it’s a goal or not. The game must not be stopped to consult a replay.
A vision of disaster haunts the minds of these “real-time” advocates: that a ball will be hooked off the goal line and play will immediately race down to the other end where a goal will be scored. Then what do you do? Stop to look at a replay, decide the first incident was indeed a goal and so disallow the second goal? Heavens, what a mess. The fact that such a scenario -- to take up Platini’s measurement scheme -- happens only about once every 80 years seems not be a factor worth considering.
Soccer should take a close look at this before it starts spending wads on what will inevitably be a rarely-used system -- and one that still has to be “successfully” tested.
Returning to that rarely seen disaster scenario: why not take a look at football?  The referee, after the goal-line clearance, allows play to continue -- but throws a flag. The flag indicates a call for a replay, and lets everyone know, just as in football, that any subsequent play may be nullified. At the next natural game stoppage, the referee is told what the replay shows.
Where’s the problem? Possibly the team that thinks it just scored will deliberately foul to get the game stopped -- but that foul might happen anyway, and is surely a contingency that can be dealt with.
But soccer, so ill-equipped to investigate and analyze such matters (what group or body or committee would do it?) has jumped straight from a defiant “No technology!” stance to embracing the most complicatedly technical system it can find.
It is clear to all that there are certain, rare, instances when the referee needs assistance in deciding whether a goal has been scored. But it’s far from clear that he needs the complexity of soccer’s version of a star-wars system to help him out.

13 comments about "Soccer goes overboard with star-wars system".
  1. Jim Williams, March 30, 2013 at 7:38 a.m.

    A lot of fans have been calling for a second field ref for years because one can't always see everything that's going on or from more than one angle but that never happened either. Other sports do it so why not soccer? Just like GLT, this sport is afraid of the word "change".

  2. Martha Diop, March 30, 2013 at 8:33 a.m.

    The article makes a LOT of sense. Assuming no one is pushing for GLT merely for seeking healthy profits, let us say that the goal disallowed once in 40 years creates so much emotional intensity, hence the relentless push for introducing a preventative system, that may have no use in 99.9% of the games.
    Let us just accept that human error is part of the game of soccer. Otherwise, after GLT, one will push for "OFF SIDE LINE" technology. Can't an offside lead to a goal anyway?

  3. David Mont, March 30, 2013 at 9:23 a.m.

    I really don't understand the "let us just accept that human error is part of the game of soccer" argument. Why do we need to accept it? Sure it's going to happen, but why not try to correct the errors? If a man is wrongly convicted for a murder he didn't commit, should we say, oh well, judicial errors will happen, or should we try to remedy the situation? Having an extra official in a booth with a TV monitor is the only sensible and inexpensive answer. There is already in fact a fourth official -- what does he do other than display the time added on and usher in subs? A replay can be watched and a decision relayed to the referee in mere seconds. How's that different from when the ref stops the game and goes over to consult with a linesman?

  4. Joe Linzner, March 30, 2013 at 11:53 a.m.

    Interesting article. However what is there to conclude? No info available, no cost available, no conclusive testing. A bunch of nothings or much ado about nothing, just a Know-nothing in love with listening to himself talk.. Ridiculous.

  5. Bruce Moorhead, March 30, 2013 at 7:17 p.m.

    Once every 40 years?!! Those "good goal not given" plays seem to be happening once a month in pro soccer. I think Platini is really exaggerating the rarity of this play. Count me as in favor of GLT.

  6. Ramon Creager, March 30, 2013 at 7:42 p.m.

    I think Platini's got it right. A recent La Liga game between Levante and Getafe serves to illustrate how his solution fares vs. the others. In the second half a beautiful strike by Levante's Vicente Iborra hits the crossbar and bounces just behind the line, then out. Close, but replay shows what looks like a goal (Very similar to the Euro 2012 missed goal. pic: ). Then, in the dying minutes, a clear handball which on replay looks quite deliberate denies Levante a goal during a goal-line scramble. No call. GLT--if it works at all--*maybe* catches the first mistake, but is useless for the second. A video ref could maybe work in both situations, but in real time? Platini's AAR system potentially can save the situation in both cases. The biggest problem I see with the AAR to this point is poor technique (this was directly responsible for the missed Euro 2012 goal), and this is exacerbated by its exclusive use in UCL and Europa League. There needs to be experience built up using this system. It should be used in all domestic leagues preferably in the first two divisions. This system has potential, is cheap, and can be implemented at all levels in any stadium or field. It also brings the further benefit that the additional AARs puts 5-6 officials in the game, which helps in controlling the game. In big games, add in the video ref.

  7. Martha Diop, March 30, 2013 at 8:11 p.m.

    I think everybody is right even if they have opposing views. It is as simple as this:
    1) Some people may feel that the game can continue to be played as is, recognizing that the it is played by three teams (two soccer teams and a referee team) all humans and making errors (e.g. missing shots, making a bad pass, missing an offside or wrongly calling one, not seeing a foul, etc..) Those people are just ready to move on, after the game
    2) Other people feel we should try to pour in more millions of dollars, or additional resources to get closer to perfection

    The bottom line is that it is endless. After the GLT is implemented, then we will talk about case when a player scored a goal, but was potentially offside. Then we will need to invent an “offside line technology”, so that the goal can be disallowed.
    After the OLT is implemented, then we have the free kick (or penalty) awarded that results in a goal, but a replay will be necessary to see that no foul was actually committed and that there were no contact. That will bring in another technology
    After introducing all technologies, we will raise the issue of player equipment giving unfair advantage to the other team given the material it is made of. No problem: we ask FIFA to regulate the material and fabrics of player equipment.

    The clear advantage of approach 1) over approach 2) is that approach 2) gives us an avenue for spending hundreds of millions of dollars in technology, enhancements, etc. It is good for the economy and the corporations.
    For my part, I like the simplicity of approach 1) play the game, get over with the result and move on.

  8. John Soares, March 30, 2013 at 8:39 p.m.

    Get over it move on. A disputed goal (potential goal)is not much different than a disputed penalty (potential goal).. and there are many of those. There will always be disputes. Regardless of technology. I like the human touch. Disputes are part of game AND fun of it all.
    Read Martha's entry again... maybe twice.

  9. Charles O'Cain, March 30, 2013 at 8:47 p.m.

    Amen, Martha and Ramon. The last thing soccer needs is "TV timeouts" of any description. Let's spend our energy on better definition of the AAR role.

  10. Kent James, April 3, 2013 at 10:28 p.m.

    The problem with the AAR system is that the 5th & 6th officials do very little for most of the match, then they are forced to make a call which may decide the game. There is a lot of pressure on referees making such calls (especially for fouls in the box; you call one foul all game, but it's a penalty kick?). I think that's why AARs don't call much (they prefer to leave calls to the CR).

  11. Ramon Creager, April 4, 2013 at 9:31 a.m.

    Kent, keep in mind that they communicate via radio, so we don't really *know* exactly how much they do. But that's what I mean by technique. That's why we need to see this AAR system implemented in domestic leagues, to work out the kinks (for instance, why are AARs stationed on the same side as the AR?), and the referee crew needs to figure out how to fit together. I remember similar difficulties arising when ARs were given more responsibility. My own personal experience is that some referees are domineering and don't like ARs making foul calls. Others are happy to get all the help they can. We just have to get used to the idea. In the end, I agree completely with Martha. Keep it human, and cheap; and it isn't the end of the world if a call is missed. The AAR system addresses concerns about missed calls while keeping to this philosophy.

  12. Ramon Creager, April 4, 2013 at 9:40 a.m.

    BTW, I would like for UEFA/FIFA or whoever to emulate Rugby Union, and let us hear the referees. Then we would know just how much the ARs and AARs contribute. If you don't know what I'm talking about, watch a Rugby Union match on TV or the internet (, for example) and listen. You can hear the referees talk to each other and to the players. This is an excellent move to bring transparency to the sport, and is educational and entertaining for the fans. For example in a recent match between Harlequins and Saracens (UK) viewers were able to hear the exchange between the center ref and the video ref on whether a bit of foul play merited a red card. It was professionally done. I don't think FIFA will ever do this; transparency is not their strong suit, and this is a pity. But it seems to work for RU.

  13. Kent James, April 5, 2013 at 7:17 p.m.

    Ramon, you make a good point about the communication through the headsets, I've never worked with those. So an AAR might be able to suggest that the CR call a PK. I did see the system work well (first time I've ever seen an AAR make a call) in one of the Champions (or UEFA?) League games. Defender clearly handled the ball, but the CR couldn't see it (or at least didn't call it); the AAR got him to call it (which took a few seconds), but they got the call right. With goal line technology, however, we should eliminate the human element. The ball has either crossed the line, or not. It shouldn't be a judgement call. If the unmanned technology is too expensive, just mount video cameras on (in?) the goal posts (one each side), so that the crew (4th official) can see if the ball ever completely crosses the line. That's an important call we should always get right.

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