Friday, February 4, 2011

Soccer's Great Leap Forward

Anyone who's nodded off while waiting for the results of a video review in American football, basketball, hockey, or baseball (each of which now uses replay in some circumstances) should be thrilled by what's happening in the world of soccer.

FIFA, the sport's international governing body, has announced it will test 10 goal-line technology systems that could instantly determine whether a ball crossed the goal line. FIFA's president Sep Blatter has long resisted this, arguing that human error is part of the game.

But Blatter's position took a major hit at last summer's World Cup when a shot by England's Frank Lampard crossed the goal line in a knockout match against Germany. Billions of TV viewers saw it with their own eyes, but the referees on the field didn't and there was no recourse.

The FIFA test will include a couple of candidates that soccer's poobahs have rejected in the past: the Hawk-Eye camera-based technology that has already ended line-call debates in tennis and the Cairos system that embeds a microchip in the ball. The ground rules of the study say any goal-line system must produce a goal/no goal decision within one second (and don't look for a hockey-style "red light"; the plan would be for the information to be delivered only to the officials).

It's about time. All of the so-called "boundary decisions" (fair or foul? in-bounds or not? hockey goal or no goal? behind the 3-point line or not?) that lead to time wasted in video review might easily be handled by adaptations of existing technology.

But before we go too far, let me also argue that Sep Blatter is right. There is and should be a human element to sports officiating. Show me the technology that can determine--in real time--whether a cornerback interfered with a receiver, or a power forward's contact with his opponent was more than incidental. They don't exist, because these are judgment calls. Do you really want a bundle of hardware and software to make those decisions?

I know I don't. Let's let the cameras and computers help with the things that can be empirically determined, and let the humans focus on the things that require judgment and expertise. Soccer can lead the way.

No comments: