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Old 4th October 2006, 09:51   #1
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Default Does football need video evidence to stamp out foul play?

Does football need video evidence to stamp out foul play?

Dejan Stefanovic and Graham Barber argue whether technology should be used to deal with big decisions.
Guardian Unlimited
October 3, 2006


Dejan Stefanovic
Portsmouth captain

Speaking as a professional player, something needs to be done now about football's contentious decisions. Even my eight-year-old daughter, sitting in the stands at White Hart Lane on Sunday, said Didier Zokora had dived to earn Tottenham a penalty against us.

If a fourth official has the option of a monitor next to him - which can also be seen by both dugouts and some supporters - to watch decisions such as foul play, diving and handballs, how long can it take to look at the replays and pass the information to the referee?

If the technology is already there, why not use it?

I am not blaming the refs, but too many key decisions are going wrong and when the game is analysed in so much detail they are made to look stupid. You don't need to apply the technology to incidents on the halfway line, just in and around the penalty area where the fate of matches can be decided by one decision.

As a Portsmouth player, I have encountered three moments when video refereeing could have been applied: the dive by Zokora and Ben Thatcher's horrific elbow on Pedro Mendes this season, and three years ago when we were beating Arsenal 1-0 at Highbury and Robert Pires decided to take a tumble over thin air inside the area after I had looked to put my leg across his path. Thierry Henry converted the penalty and it cost us two points and a famous victory.

All the players knew it was a dive, as did a number of people in the crowd. The referee could not have been 100% certain, so what harm would it have done to have the fourth official examine a replay and confirm there had been no contact?

People say that, while it may work in rugby and cricket, football is too fast for constant referral to television monitors.

But with the stakes so high, surely it is better to take a little longer to look at an incident than to rush things and make a wrong decision? What if that decision had determined a cup final or, even worse, relegation - and cost a club millions of pounds?

Uefa says it is reasonable to suggest the use of technology in the Premiership, Serie A or La Liga, but with lower leagues and at grass roots level it is simply too expensive. I understand, but you need to experiment with things at the highest level, where everything is magnified, and then consider it lower down the food chain.

Having spoken to fellow players and managers, most are in agreement that the authorities have to act. I have been in the game 14 years and have played at international level, and I can tell you that diving is definitely on the increase.

Not so much among English players, but as more foreign-based players come into the Premiership they bring a view that it is OK to go over with minimal contact, whether it be a shirt tug or a tackle.

A lot of responsibility rests with the managers, and I was disappointed to hear Martin Jol's comments after Sunday's game. He knew it was a dive, so what harm would it have done to condemn his player and say how sorry he felt for Portsmouth to lose three points through blatant cheating? Action has to come from the top and if it takes technology to prompt this, surely that is a small price to pay.

Graham Barber
Former Premier League and Fifa referee

Let's first get rid of the idea that referees don't want technological help of any form - if technology can assist them in any way, they will accept it. But I am against the use of video playbacks in all but one area: whether the ball was over the line. In other instances, I believe video evidence would not help the officials or the game.

The vast majority of decisions are matters of opinion rather than fact, and that opinion - on the part of the referee - isn't necessarily proved right or wrong by video evidence. As it is, everybody in the game clusters round to take a second look: managers, ex-managers, players, ex-players and the media. Quite often they will watch several re-runs and still disagree.

Was it or wasn't it a penalty? Was it offside or not? There are still people in the game who, irrespective of the laws, believe a player is seeking an advantage whether or not he is interfering with play. That, too, is an opinion but it is not concurrent with the law as it stands.

Handball is another grey area. You can watch an incident from six different angles and still not decide whether it was hand-to-ball or ball-to-hand. By calling for video technology, what people are doing is encouraging referees to transfer their decisions - based on opinion - to somebody sitting in front of a television set. He then gives his opinion, and it might easily be one that plenty of other people think is wrong.

Video evidence can always be misinterpreted. I admit there are some clear examples of players being offside and not being flagged, such as when the Everton manager David Moyes complained about a goal scored by Newcastle recently. But if video was available there would be umpteen incidents referred up to the stand during a match. Sometimes this could be helpful, as at Newcastle, but those occasions would be in the minority.

Of course there are the odd big decisions that become hot potatoes - but I believe that 99% of the time, referees are correct.

And with video evidence, when and how do you stop the game? How do you restart it? Everybody seems to be saying it would only take about 10 seconds to check the tape - but the fifth official would need to take two or three looks at some incidents. That might take him 30 seconds and you could end up with a delay of a minute. Even then the decision might not be a definitive one.

English football is an exciting product because of the way the game is played. It is the fastest and most physical football in the world. That is why people love to watch it. What effect would it have on the product if we introduced stoppages for video playbacks? I think the game would become a turn-off.

That doesn't mean there isn't room for some technology in the game. For instance, there is now improved communication between officials, through being wired up. Even this hasn't worked sometimes, though, and errors have gone unchecked.

Technology is not infallible. A fifth, "video" official could get a decision right and still find people saying he was wrong. The game is all about opinion - that is the lifeblood of football and why it is talked about in the bars. I just think decisions are best left to the opinion of the man at the centre of things.

Graham Barber was talking to Alan Biggs
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. Martin Luther King
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