Refereeing is certainly the most contentious issue in modern football. To people from the US who are used to the practice of using video repeats to review split second decisions introducing it seems like a no brainer. Even hardcore fans from Europe, who would snub me as an amateur for using the word ‘soccer’ (even though up until recently it used to be really common even to the “homeland of football” England), are really keen on introducing this truly American habit.
I am a fan of American sports, especially in their college editions (GO BLUE!) and have witnessed first hand the positive influence that video repeats have on the games where they are employed. However, I think introducing the same practice to soccer would completely change the character and spirit of the game. Here’s why.
Pauses for video reivews = commercial breaks
One of the big reasons I (and many like me, I suspect) love soccer is because watching it means at least 45 minutes of interrupted entertainment. Think watching “Game of Thrones” on HBO, but without the sex (unless Germany is playing Brazil).
Introducing video repeats to the game would make many executives extremely happy – it would mean they finally have a legitimate reason to squeeze in commercials – much like we see it in (American) football, basketball, ice hockey, etc. Even if the wellbeing of the ‘consumer’ of soccer is not enough of a reason to convince you, there is another bigger implication for the game itself.
Football has a completely different dynamic
Unlike most team games, where both formal interruptions and unlimited substitutions are the rule (American football, ice-hockey, basketball, volleyball, etc.), soccer games are formally stopped only when time runs out (either at halftime of fulltime). That means coaches have limited ability to influence the game. Moreover, they only have 3 substitutions at their disposal (which cannot be reversed) to change the course of a given game.
In basketball (and most other sports with similar rules), if one team is doing particularly well, the opposition’s coach would immediately call for a timeout to break their good streak. Not in soccer. If one team is hammering the other (going back to the Germany – Brazil example from above), the coach of the suffering side has little options at their hand. S/he’s like a general on the battlefield – s/he can make strategic decisions but ultimately cannot win – that’s up to the soldiers.
In most matches this makes for intensive psychological drama to match the technical and physical aspects of the game. Video repeats would take this away from the game and completely alter its spirit. I can think of many games, including some of those people consider legendary (for example, the 1999 UEFA Champions League final between Bayern München and Manchester United), that I cannot imagine happening if video reviews were part of the game.
There are ways to improve refereeing through technology
In my mind, the reason laid out in the previous section is the most important argument why video repeats shouldn’t be introduced into soccer at any cost. However, that doesn’t mean I am not going to deny that bad unjust refereeing has the potential to harm the game much more than beer commercials. Therefore, I do believe we should look for ways to help referees improve their work. Thankfully, we have technology to help us.
The FIFA World Cup in Brazil has seen, for the first time, the use of ‘goal-line technology’. In reality, this is a video review, however with one big caveat – it happens within a second of the event, so it has no real effect on the dynamics of the game. This is a truly positive examples, which addresses one of the most painful issues of the game.
I seriously doubt that goal-line technology is the last technological enhancement to be used in the administration of football matches. Perhaps it will take a while for technology to advance to the point where it can offer more solutions, but for now I think football is safe as it is.