Commentary

Attitude of 'getting the call right' will someday supersede that of 'getting on with it'

By Ridge Mahoney
(@ridgemax)

At its annual general meeting next month, the International Football Association Board is expected to green-light extensive trials of video replay and trigger a firestorm of debate.

The game whose proponents take pride in its flow and rhythm is in danger of taking a step down the slippery slope of technology, and into controversy and turmoil triggered by images viewed by cameras and perhaps not the game officials. The implementation of widespread video replay is not imminent, yet it may be inevitable.

Critics of video -- and they are strident and plentiful -- cite delays and disruption of play as unwelcome intrusions on the game cherished for its flow and rhythm. They view the use of video, while limited, as going too far in an attempt to rectify the human errors inevitable when just a few pairs of eyes must monitor 22 players on a field that covers much more than an acre.

Dependence on technology, they contend, will undermine the authority of referees, who already are severely stretched in the cauldrons they try to control. And the expansion of replay to review offside calls and other decisions would inevitably follow the limited uses originally adopted.

But the critics, right though they may be in theory, are fighting against another flow, that of money and power and pressure. Players are bigger and faster and stronger and shrewder than ever and ordinary humans are falling further and further behind, so after increasing the number of officials on the field, sports such as hockey and basketball and football have turned to technology. Even that most staid and traditional sport, baseball, uses video for home-run decisions and foul-line calls and tag plays and force plays and isn’t far away from extensive tests of a hologram-sensor system to determine balls and strikes.

If the IFAB does sanction extensive tests as a prelude to possible inclusion in the rule book, MLS will eagerly lead the way. League commissioner Don Garber has publicly approved the use of video replays and the league has conducted experiments to help referees and their assistants refine their decisions in certain instances: red cards, penalty kicks, goals and cases of mistaken identity.

Soccer exists in a new world. The vast sums and exposure of other big-time sports have pushed them into the video age, where every close decision and razor-thin call are scrutinized minutely from myriad angles and slowed down to a speed that would bore a snail. Four years after approving goal-line technology, FIFA is feeling heat to go further, much further. The Dutch soccer federation (KNVB) has been conducting tests and last week German Bundesliga officials announced it plans to experiment with video replay next season.

The NFL instituted replay 30 years ago. Its use has been refined and expanded and tweaked many times and occasionally can’t resolve a dispute, but it’s here to stay. Baseball took the plunge in 2014; every MLB game is reviewed in New York by officials who communicate with the game umpires. Both leagues primarily use a coach’s challenge process to initiate a review until the final stages of a game, at which time the officials or umpires assume that responsibility.

Other major sports use video replay to varying degrees. Rugby, like soccer, is a game of minimal stoppages played on a huge field. In major competitions, the referee on the field communicates with a Television Match Official (TMO), who watches the game from a suite or van equipped with monitors. Unlike the NFL, there is no coaches’ challenge process in rugby: the two officials are in constant contact and either one can initiate the use of a video review in certain situations.

Also unlike the NFL, where the head referee views the video on the field and changes a decision if necessary, in rugby the television official renders the final decision if he sees sufficient evidence to do so. If an obstructed view or other factor creates doubt as to whether a try was legally scored -- the ball must be grounded by an attacking player on or beyond the try line --- he doesn’t make a call and instead signals for a video review. And the two codes of the game, rugby union and rugby league, have different parameters regarding what can be reviewed.

Some proponents of video replay in soccer advocate the challenge system, others prefer an overseer method by which errors can be corrected. In past decades, interpretations regarding many situations involving fouls, handling, offside, passes to the goalkeeper, etc., have been modified, but always referees have been bound to a code of decisiveness. The best ones not only get the vast majority of calls correct but they do so emphatically. 

Incorporating video replay into the rule book will take time and no doubt cause problems and complications as to how games are officiated. The best referees would adjust to a video system but the prospect of plays being rewound and reviewed is anathema to many fans as well as those concerned about eroding of the match officials' authority. Concerns about delays were raised when replay encroached upon other sports and soccer, beloved for its continuous passages of play, is not ideally suited for shutdowns dictated by tight calls. 

Video replay in soccer is much more complex and risky than an earlier foray into technology. Four years ago, following a long period of testing and experimentation and re-testing, FIFA approved the use of goal-line technology. Its first use in a major soccer competition, at the 2014 World Cup, confirmed its value, but as of now, only the English Premier League uses it regularly. And GLT, like the systems used in tennis, is based on imaging, not video. The ball and the lines are clearly visible. There is no human interpretation involved.

Garber also suggested MLS might use GLT upon its approval by FIFA but, citing the rarity of cases and prohibitive costs, he announced three years ago the Board of Governors had backed off that stance. Video replay has established a much firmer footing among team and league officials. They, like their counterparts in many parts of the world, see too many refereeing decisions that could be overturned by review of video, and someday the attitude of “getting the call right” will supersede that of “getting on with it.”

The IFAB convenes its meeting March 5. MLS starts its 21st season March 6. The game here and around the world is bound for dramatic change.

18 comments about "Attitude of 'getting the call right' will someday supersede that of 'getting on with it'".
  1. Valerie Metzler, February 17, 2016 at 9:15 a.m.

    I would not like to see replays instituted as part of the flow of play and judgement.

  2. Brian S, February 17, 2016 at 9:30 a.m.

    This is simple. #1 - Video replay to confirm a goal. There is no "flow" at this point - the play is stopped. The goal is to confirm there was no offside violation. #2 - Video replay to confirm a PK - only when there's a question if the foul was inside the 18 - we've already seen instances with the USWNT that a foul - which won't be questioned- occurred outside the 18 but a PK was awarded. There's no "flow" to stop here either as a PK, by definition, is a ceremonial FK.

    Mistaken identity on a red card can be handled too as play, once again, is stopped.

    That's all that is really needed.

  3. Wooden Ships, February 17, 2016 at 9:30 a.m.

    Ridge, I think you are in favor of technology in soccer and sports. You reluctantly agree to the inevitability. This transition isn't really about money, its a societal, especially in the states, issue about so many people feeling cheated. It's not fair. We got robbed. Injustice all around me. Our character isn't what it once was. There are countless encounters in life where we are required to overcome perceived or real negative results. We are weakened individually when arbitrary-external mechanism's are depended upon to right a wrong. With each passing year sports and competition is less enjoyable because it is now dominated by people that want, no demand, that they not be cheated. Sad, commentary on contemporary culture. Ideally, we would be better off returning to no technology and facing life realistically. Thumbs down for technology in any sporting event.

  4. Tim Mccoy replied, February 17, 2016 at 9:48 a.m.

    I agree with Ships...our microwave society has to have everything fast and perfect.

    There are three teams on the field for every match but only one is expected to be perfect. Most professional referees get well over 9 out of every 10 calls correct. The players aren't nearly as proficient.

    Mistakes by all three teams on the field are as much a part of the game as headers and tackles. How a team deals with the adversity of a bad call is an integral part of the game and is no different than how they deal with their own mistakes or take advantage of their opponents mistakes.

    The problem with replay, in all sports, is the replay official has a distinctly different view and the benefit of frame-by-frame replay. Replay decisions should be made at real time speed because often the ref made the right call in a real time replay but once it's dissected frame by frame the play looks completely different.

    Also, the camera angle often shows something the match officials couldn't see on the field despite perfect positioning.

    Is our desire to "get it right" going to lead to teams being allowed to replay a sequence? Why pick on just the referee's calls?

  5. Kent James replied, February 18, 2016 at 2:16 p.m.

    Okay, I'll bite. Why is not wanting to be cheated a sad commentary on our culture? I understand the need to deal with adversity, but if the adversity is unwarranted (or wrong), is it still better that we have it? I think anything that helps create a more fair system without disrupting the flow of the game much is worth it. I'd rather argue about who's a better player than which team got cheated more by bad officiating.

  6. Jim Ngo replied, February 20, 2016 at 11:32 a.m.

    Great response. Athletics holds so many good lessons for life, with the ability to accept mistakes and move on being one of them. Video and the American attitude of "getting it right" is the wrong direction.

  7. Bob Ashpole, February 17, 2016 at 9:32 a.m.

    It is one thing to have rules of a competition provide for video replay and quite another to include them in the LOTG meant for universal application. I also don't agree with the obsession for perfection in what is ultimately just a game, not open heart surgery or aircraft maintenance. Strange priorities.

  8. Glenn Auve, February 17, 2016 at 10:32 a.m.

    I think it depends what you're going to allow to be reviewed. I suspect that if it's something the referee has seen and used his judgement to decide then you can't review it. So, how many other things are there to review in soccer? Goal decisions, as noted, there are only very few, rare instances where goal line technology is necessary. Offside decisions are going to require some pretty sophisticated technology given how dynamic player movement is. It's unlikely that a camera will be in the exact right location to be perpendicular to the second to last defender, for example. My biggest issue with the way games are officiated is that referees (especially at the pro level) are instructed to keep the game flowing. So they ignore lots of fouls which, in MLS especially, leads to a lot of overly physical play that is allowed. No amount of technology is going to change that.

  9. Ric Fonseca replied, February 17, 2016 at 4:21 p.m.

    Glenn, I am at a great loss as to how do you know that pro refs are "instructed to keep the game flowing...(sic)" and thereby "ignore lots of fouls," which in the MLS leads to more physical play? Yes, physical play, not only in the MLS and many other games played in different parts of the world is indeed and fact is a fact of the game. So, one could say that it is pronounced "potato" or "potatoe" really doesn't make a difference, as it tastes the same.

  10. Ric Fonseca replied, February 17, 2016 at 4:25 p.m.

    Oh, and I forgot that the only instructions that the game officials receive before a game are those by the assigner, and quite possibly by the referee assessor. And if they, the officials, are told to keep the game flowing, well, it is probably to tell them not to make or call trifling fouls. Just sayin'!

  11. Bob Ashpole replied, February 17, 2016 at 5:05 p.m.

    Ric, I think he is referring to trifling and advantage.

  12. beautiful game, February 17, 2016 at 11:04 a.m.

    Goal line technology yes...off-side technology on a goal scored, yes. It takes 10 seconds to come up with a verdict. Every controversial call by a referee needs to be reviewed after the game with league officials in the presence of the referee; honing ref skills critique.

  13. Matthew Vaughan, February 17, 2016 at 11:47 a.m.

    I think they're getting it all wrong and not thinking creatively at all.

    Yes, video should definitely be part of the officiating, there are so many camera angles, close-ups, slow-mo instant replays etc. that the television audience sees and even the fans on the scoreboards that it's ridiculous for the refs to be blind to. So yes, it should not be ignored.

    But that doesn't mean that the lead referee needs to see it or that it should be used after the fact to slow down the game.

    What they need is an additional referee up in the broadcast booth (so there is absolutely no temptation to have the ref walk to the sidelines to see a replay) watching the same camera angles as the TV audience (probably minus most added graphics, commentary, talking heads, commercials, etc., though some of the graphics could be useful like distance measurements from the point of a free kick or showing the line of offside).

    That ref would communicate with the other refs via headset and either point out things they saw that might have been missed, or else be asked for their opinion and viewpoint when discussing a situation after the whistle. But the lead ref, who still can't see everything and relies on the assistants for other sets of eyes, should still make the final call and should still try to move the game along.

    Add in two more assistant refs patrolling from the goal to the corner flag on the opposite corners (to triangulate and cut off blind spots, be closer to action that's farther from the others, and have a better view along the goal line) and gradual addition of automated camera technology to determine goals/out of bounds and later whatever else they can reliably determine (offsides maybe in the future?) so the refs can focus more on player behavior, and I think refereeing could improve a lot (at some expense of course)... WITHOUT delaying gameplay at all.

  14. Ric Fonseca replied, February 17, 2016 at 4:30 p.m.

    Mr. Vaughan, I do believe that much of what you talk about in your comment, has been already implemented, save for the so-called talking heads, many who probably never officiated a game at any level, while graphics are used usually during half-time, the game officials are already connected by wireless phones, mikes, etc. As for having the Center Official make a line to the halfway line to view a monitor, this is a "non-starter" And BTW didn't a recent international competition implement GLT?

  15. John Hofmann, February 17, 2016 at 12:46 p.m.

    Ridge cites an argument against technology as "Dependence on technology, they contend, will undermine the authority of referees..." How about seeing a blatant mistake spread around the world, on 2 billion TV monitors. Perhaps that isn't a problem of 'authority' - but does that assist in undermining respect for the officials? I remember watching Henri handle the ball in that WCQ against Ireland -- I have absolutely no interest in either country, but I do feel it was a blow to integrity of the sport. Blatant cheating, that no amount of pontificating could relieve for an entire country. I have great difficulty accepting that such 'problems' don't help undermine attitudes toward soccer officials.

  16. Kent James replied, February 18, 2016 at 2:21 p.m.

    I agree; refs would much rather have the tools they need to make the right call, instead of forcing players to live with bad calls because it somehow helps build their character.

  17. John Soares, February 17, 2016 at 3:40 p.m.

    Good to see varies takes!? Mine, It's a game of humans... keep it that way.

  18. Ric Fonseca, February 21, 2016 at 3:26 p.m.

    Hey SA, just who is Nicole Marie and why is this "commercial" appearing on the comment section of SA???

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications