June 19, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

World Cup soccer loves to hate high tech

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September 7, 2005
BERLIN--Fourteen minutes into Argentina's first World Cup match on June 10, a header bounced off the goalpost and into the Ivory Coast keeper's hands--and maybe all the way across the goal line.

Was it a goal? The Argentines thought so. A computer-assisted replay on German television made it appear so. But the referee had already called it as a save, and the game went on.

The issue was again thrown into relief on Sunday, when a French shot appeared to have gone over South Korea's goal line, but was not called as a goal. The game ultimately finished in a 1-1 tie.

It's ambiguities like these, debated endlessly by bloggers and sports fans, that a new generation of soccer technology aims to avoid. But despite promising recent technology tests, this year's World Cup in Germany still lacks any high-tech help that might settle questions of contested goals or other controversial calls.

"The technology we're looking for, we can't find yet," said George Cumming, a former Head of Refereeing for the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), soccer's international governing body. "We've tried. The technology has developed, but I think it hasn't solved this problem."

The resistance to new technology highlights a cultural gulf between soccer and most professional sports in the United States, which have long used instant replay and other high-tech aids to help referees make the right call.

American football has used video replay systems to check referees' calls for more than half a decade. Basketball referees use replay systems to make sure players are shooting within the time allotted by the shot clock. But soccer officials and fans worldwide are adamant that the smooth flow of their game not be interrupted--even if that means sacrificing perfect accuracy.

Many deem video playback systems, which must be monitored by someone off-field, an unacceptable infringement on the referee's traditionally complete control over the game's play. A purist camp even points to referees' human frailty as an integral part of the game.

World Cup tech

"What referees see is what they feel from the game, what experience tells them is happening, and what their fatigue level allows them to see, just like the players," said Chuck Fleischer, a longtime U.S.-based referee, and an editor at AskTheRef.com, a popular soccer Web site. "The human eye is not as quick as a computer, but the human mind can pick up all the nuances, all the smells, the looks on people's faces, and make a decision."

This skepticism doesn't mean that soccer's powers-that-be aren't looking for a good high-tech assistant, however.

As long as a decade ago, FIFA officials approached researchers at the University of Glasgow in Scotland for help. They came up with nothing that could satisfy the league's stringent requirements, however. Later, an independent Italian inventor approached them with his own idea for a goal-identifying chip inside the ball. Officials tested it, and found it wanting.

A ball, a chip--a goal?
The latest and most promising prospect has been a "smartball" loaded with an RFID chip, jointly developed by German companies Cairos Technologies and the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits, an engineering research and software development company, along with the Adidas athletic clothing and shoe company.

CONTINUED: Technology that almost works…
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And it happened again yesterday - France vs. South Korea
It's not just the Argentina game that had a contentious goal-line decision, but last night's France vs. South Korea game had an even more dubious "miss" by the referee and his assistants. The South Korean goalie pawed the ball out well after it had crossed the line, but the ref deemed it was a save - this was made even worse when South Korea equalised in the second half and denied France the full 3 points they should have had. Now France are struggling to qualify for the next round due to this major refereeing mistake - if they fail to beat Togo, they're probably out of the tournament!
Posted by rklrkl (143 comments )
Reply Link Flag
no offense...
No offense to France (or you), but if they fail to beat Togo, they deserve to get the boot.
As far as the technology goes, I think it's difficult to implement an Instant Replay option in soccer, primarily because of the continuity of the game, secondly due to the size of the playing field. Look at american football, and their replay system. That would never fly because the refs get (it seems) about 5 minutes to check out the play in questions! Then there's hockey (with a similar game continuity) which has a replay system. It only works because their playing field is so small.
The RFID technology certainly has come a long way, and it will be interesting to see how much more can be done. I think the main concern, is that the game could be altered because of the weight of the chip (negligible) or the ball could be off-balance. It will take some proving, but will happen at some point.
Posted by msenelly (2 comments )
Link Flag
I saw that. Luck plays into all games. South Korea was lucky. France was not good enough to overcome their lack of luck. Oh well France. If they lose to Togo, then it will be their fault, not South Korea's or the ref of this game.
Posted by Gasaraki (183 comments )
Link Flag
How will refs supplement their income with hi-tech doing the job?
Could you picture all the bookies in the Mediterranian and S. America? They wouldn't know what odds to put up if the refs couldn't be bribed.

I love the Italians in particular. Before the games even start, everybody knows who's going to win, by how much, who's going to fall, who's going to score. This is much more fun without tech nosing in.
Posted by kamwmail-cnet1 (292 comments )
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In a land, far far away
How long has it been since the introduction of the magic eye in tennis ? I recall Nastase bouncing a ball on the sensor, when they'd just been introduced at Wimbeldon.

How long has it been with no technological aids in sooccer - soccer is like baseball. In baseball, they have the machines that they CAN use, to call balls & strikes. But people want to have umpires get the calls wrong. I think soccer's the same - they'd rather have controversy.
Posted by DryHeatDave (79 comments )
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Apples and oranges.
What the article doesn't cover is that all popular American sports are stop-start in nature, making it comparatively easy to take time to consult a video replay or whatever.

Football (Soccer) is a free flowing game with only occasional interruptions. Take for example the (oft quoted) scenario of where a whether the goalie played the ball out of the goal before or after it crossed the line. In the former case, play should continue. In the latter play should stop and a goal should be awarded. If the ref allows play to continue (assuming no goal) and the opposition then scores, then it is discovered in a video replay (after play finally stops) that the original goal should stand, what happens to the second goal scored as a result of the play-on because of an erroneous assumption that the ball didn't cross the line the first time?
Posted by (14 comments )
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Color blindness
I understand that in somewhat static sports such as American football, instant replay (as implemented in college, not with the ridiculous delays in the pros) is OK, but not in a free-flowing sport with such rich tradition. Sorry fellow Americans, we don't 'own' this sport, we are relative newcomers to it and as such must respect its long tradition.

However, one point I must make in favor of replay - the decision on yellow and red cards. Replay should not be involved with the decision on the field; that must remain sacrosanct. But the the automatic suspension of a player for subsequent game(s) due to 2 yellow cards in 2 consecutive matches and/or a red card MUST be reviewed. This does not involve reversing the decision on the field but can have a tremendous impact on a player and their team in the tournament. There is ample time for FIFA officials to review (including a discussion with the referree of that match) yellow and/or red card incidences (such as the questionables ones in the USA/Italy match) and allow a player to compete in the next match if it determines that the yellow/red card was unjustified.

For the most part, I'm against reversal of decisions on the field in any sport via replay. One must except good or bad calls as part of the luck involved in any sport (as long as no corruption of officials are involved). The good and bad luck involved in official's calls are like life in general. Live with it.
Posted by danno3 (5 comments )
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US Sports
There are two schools of thought, both firmly against the introduction of anything that will turn football into the stop start games that the US loves to watch.

First is that we don't want "Wimbledon" situations where new technology gives blatently false decisions, there doesn't exist a technology tough enough to withstand the abuse a football or where ever the sensors will end up, that also won't interpret a defender's head or goalkeeper's foot as being the ball on the line, or worse, over the line.

Second, if we used TV replays to decide each decision, who decides which decisions warrant the game being stopped at a potentially crucial point in the game (how many times has defense on the goal line, turned into attacking play that produces a goal), with a decision that shows that the ball didn't cross the line interrupting the game before the ball has been cleared and another attempt on goal might have taken place.

Football isn't the kind of game that gives the referee an opportunity to stop play mid game. What do you do, stop the game 5 minutes later, and see if you should have given a goal, and if it was a goal, set the clock back five minutes, erase any decisions such as yellow/red cards or perhaps even a goal for the other side?

Do you wait until the game is finished, then change the scoreline without giving the opposition the opportunity to step up their game and recapture the lead or grab a draw?

No, the closest we've come to getting something that might work, was that combination of placing sensors in the ball itself as well as the goal posts, which in turn tried to sense when the ball had travelled sufficiently past the posts to be certain that the entire ball has crossed the line.

And guess what, it didn't work. So back to the drawing board, and hopefully by the time the next world cup roles around we have something that can award goals correctly but doesn't interrupt the flow of the game.
Posted by ajbright (447 comments )
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Not just for goals
There's also the issue of fouls. In the Trinidad & Tobago vs. England match, the first goal came off a blatant foul, but the referee did not see it. Also in that match Trinidad already got 3 yellow cards, a few from some questionable calls, so there was no point protesting the goal.

That was the nail in Trinidad's coffin because that totally broke the spirit of the players and opened the defense up give England yet another goal.

If there was some sort of instant replay or off-field referee in that game it would have turned out much differently.

- rmjb
Posted by rmjb (28 comments )
Reply Link Flag
lets start by adding a second ref!
How about relieving the pressure for one man to see everything on the field for 90 minutes by adding a seond on field. They could split up each half and stay closer to the action to make better calls.

What I've seen so far seems to be a direct result of a single set of eyes trying to be everywhere for all 90 minutes, impossible!
Posted by jash69 (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
are you serious?
Have you ever seen a soccer game before? even at the lowest level of FIFA (your local leagues) it is required to have a referee and 2 Assistant referees. the 2 assistant referee's can make all of the same calls as the center, and they have those nifty flags.

a 2 referee system is approved in some states for high school competitions, (not FIFA) and the difference in quality of officiating in those games with only 2 refs vs a center and 2 assitants is mind boggling.
Posted by reedsr (37 comments )
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Message has been deleted.
Posted by 206538395198018178908092208948 (141 comments )
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