Tuesday Aug 21, 2007

Say no to instant replays


I'm cross-posting this, having written it on the Guardian's (rather good) football blog as RightOnBrother.

Listening the Guardian's also rather good Football Weekly podcast (which is incidentally now bi-weekly), one of the senior journalists, Sean Ingle, spoke of the "inevitability" of the use of instant replay evidence in football. Calling it a "no brainer", and saying that he does not understand opposition to to the idea. This, of course, in the wake of Liverpool's 1-1 draw with Chelsea which saw referee Rob Styles awarded a bizarre penalty to Chelsea.

I'm a staunch opponent of the introduction of video replays into football. A good example of just why was last October Great Britain played New Zealand in a rugby league international. Almost all of the tries were referred to the video ref. This is by no means uncommon. The option of the video umpire undermines the authority of the referee, who will be castigated for failing to use it. So, almost every try is referred to the video referee.

Not that the video referee is infallible: watch again that rugby league international to see that on a majority of occasions two veteran commentators (Jonathan Davies and Ray French, are both former players, one with refereeing experience) disagree with the decision of the 4th official.


You're the video ref. Goal or no goal?

What's more, the experience of a live football match would be diminished by the instant replay. It is not simply that lengthy pauses in the action would slow the game down, but that the very defining moment of a game - a score - is nullified. Seeing "Goal", or "No goal" eventually appear on a video screen is a very poor second to seeing the net bulge, or a finger-tip save.

And if the effect of a goal is cathartic for the spectators, it is doubly so for the players. Having to pause for a matter of several minutes before a goal is given will reduce the shifts in confidence and momentum which see games change hands. Would Liverpool's famous 6-minute assault on AC Milan in 2005 have been possible with a video umpire present? Lengthy breaks in play are what defending teams crave to kill revivals off.

I don't blame Sean Ingle for considering this to be a "no-brainer". I was ambivalent about video referring until it totally ruined my enjoyment of rugby league, a sport with discrete passages of play. Football, with its contiguous play, lends itself even less to video refereeing. How far back in a passage of play would one go in determining whether a goal was legitimate? Or would only certain laws be enforced by technology? Wouldn't any line be arbitrary, and just as unsatisfactory?

Anyone who thinks that it is inevitable that we should have instant replays should consider just how rubbish video refereeing actually would be. Television is important enough already, and, as Liverpool have proved so well in their first two games of the season, these things do even themselves out: Liverpool beat Aston Villa the weekend before by scoring from a highly dubious free kick.


p.s. the views expressed here are not necessarily those of my employer

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