Introducing goal-line technology is right – but it’s not necessarily the best thing to do
Another big game, another controversy that leads to calls for goal-line technology.
Like most arguments that re-emerge repeatedly and rage for an inordinate length of time, the whole issue has become rather tiresome because it’s reached the stage where the answer to the question of what’s correct and above board is obvious to everyone. The whole debate seems pretty pointless.
However, those who refuse to accept the need for change do so because they have their own agendas that are much broader and more far-reaching than the matter at hand for the game’s most-dedicated followers. The authorities are clearly looking to protect their own interests, and who’s to say they’re wrong to be so fiercely resistant? Is it possible that football might actually benefit from delaying this inevitable development for as long as possible?
Only when you consider the following will you be in a position to answer the question that really lies at the heart of this debate. This is my own take on the situation and I’m merely playing devil’s advocate. I have my own theory, which is to say that I’m merely reiterating the words of Sepp Blatter and his cronies at FIFA, albeit delivering them in the context of what they really mean.
When you look at these incidents in isolation, it seems ludicrous that relative minority sports like Rugby League and cricket should implement the technology to get big decisions right, yet football remains stuck in the Dark Ages, steadfastly refusing to accept that such technology will improve the game. But it’s only once you understand the fear that lies behind the honesty and integrity that such technology threatens to provide that you begin to understand why football wishes to lag behind in the twentieth century.
Now take a step back and consider football as a consumer product – a McDonalds or Coca-Cola in the world of sport, if you will. Unlike those relative minority sports that must improve themselves and the quality of their products in order to compete for a greater market share, football is far and away the clear market leader. And like most market leaders, the level of resistance to change is bound to be extreme because everybody is working to the same mantra: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
By all means work on protecting the image, but don’t endanger the product by tinkering with its magic formula. When you have over a billion people eating out of the palm of your hand, why risk losing ten per cent of them for the sake of correcting a few incidents that provoke extreme anger among those who are punished by these wrong decisions?
Now I realise this might sound like a rather drastic conclusion to reach from what might seem like a minor alteration. I mean, why on earth would 100 million people stop watching football because of a couple of tiny cameras hidden in goalposts?
Well, that’s a crucial question that leads us into a whole new debate of why human error lies at the heart of why is football so appealing to the masses. Allow me to elaborate…
In recent years, countless academic studies into competitive balance have been conducted by researchers in the United States. The Americans, being Americans, like to know what makes some sports and some leagues more successful than others because this knowledge then allows the governing bodies like the MLB, NHL, MLS, NBA and NFL to understand what would make their own products more successful.
In terms of competitive balance, they have researched long and hard to find the patterns that determine mass appeal because popularity means money… money from gate receipts, money from merchandise, money from sponsorship and, most importantly, money from television rights.
At this point, I’m at the risk of straying wildly off-course into the world of football economics, and in doing so diluting the point I’m trying to make. Save to say, what these studies nearly always find is that while a certain level of unpredictability between the best teams and worst teams in any competition is always healthy, sport can sometimes be ‘too healthy’ when it comes to competitive balance.
Football is the global market leader because of the natural order that exists within the game. Spain are now the team to beat in the international arena, Barcelona are the current superpower of European club football, Manchester United dominate in the Premier League – and who in the world doesn’t know that?
Power shifts may occur from generation to generation but these generally take place over a sustained period of time, slow enough for the masses who take only a casual interest in the game to keep up with the storyline.
And therein lies the reason why big clubs get most of the decisions. Human error will always favour the natural order because the script, to some extent, is already written in advance. Years of conditioning means that referees, the men in the spotlight at such crucial moments, expect certain outcomes and are most likely to make mistakes in favour of the team they consider most likely to win in any case.
Goal-line technology, on the other hand – not to mention the other developments that will inevitably follow once the floodgates have been opened – might throw a small but significant spanner in the works. Who knows how different the football landscape might look 50 years from now if underdogs have only to overcome the 11 players in front of them rather than the psychological might of the natural order. Imagine 50 years of underdogs winning more football matches, leading to a different team lifting the Premier League title every year.
By getting more of the big decisions right, which is to say striking a more honest balance between the big clubs and smaller clubs, power shifts will occur over a shorter period of time and those people who take only a casual interest in the game might be less inclined to switch on the television.
The conspiracy theorists might say this degree of control borders on corruption, but one might argue that human error is the best way of maintaining a healthy state of imbalance in a fairly random manner.
As dedicated fans and punters, it’s easy to become frustrated when, in the here and now, you don’t care much for the natural order. To the educated, the integrity of the game is being compromised by repeated incidents of this nature. The authorities, by refusing to embrace progress, are treading a fine line between what’s right and what’s best.
Whether you agree or disagree with this stance probably depends on your interpretation of ‘what’s best’ for the game in the long run, but you should think about the long-term consequences of disturbing the natural order before you ridicule the authorities for their resistance.Tagged in: chelsea, FA Cup, Martin Atkinson, Tottenham, Wembley
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