Time for Big Brother to become a referee?

This entry was posted on Friday, February 4th, 2011

This week saw my first trip to the Emirates Stadium to watch Arsenal vs Everton. Although Arsenal went 1-0 down in the first half thanks to a controversial refereeing decision, they managed to pull it back in the second half to win 2-1 in the end.

It does beg the question again about introducing technology into the refereeing of football, literally one of the only major sports not to do so, particularly since it wouldn’t be all that difficult to implement – the replay of the offside was shown in the stadium literally 20-30 seconds later – indeed the person that I went to see the game with suggested we get Andy Gray back in to explain the offside rule to the ref.

In the recent World Cup in South Africa, there was a similar story where the instant replay showed how disastrously wrong the refereeing decision was (in that incident, the question was not one of offside, rather whether or not the ball had crossed the line – it had by a good two feet!).

The argument that having an action replay or a fourth (or fifth if you include the substitution guy) official would slow down the pace of play is a false one. The controversial decisions usually result in a bit of an argument as players and managers petition the referee in any case. This time could instead be spent watching the replay, with a clear decision able to be made within a matter of seconds.

To further combat slowing down the game, it has also been suggested to adopt a similar system to that in tennis – each side is given a set number of challenges that they are allowed to use in a match – thereby incentivising the teams not to query trivial decisions in case they need to pull a challenge out of the bag at a crucial point later in the game.

Of course, no system is going to be perfect, but it is laughable that poor decisions can be shown up instantaneously by commentators and yet the game does nothing about it.

The technology already exists in tennis to detect the path of the ball, and that is in a game where the ball is much smaller and faster paced than a regulation football. Similarly, the technology exists in the TV commentary world to examine whether the ball is offside virtually instantaneously.

Perhaps it’s time to move the referee off the pitch to a TV room and replace him with a runner with a radio who he can direct from afar.

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