Will football emulate rugby and cricket?
Alex Vella takes a look at the possibility of football taking a leaf out of other team sports in adopting modern video technology to eliminate controversy as much as possible...
Football rules have been ingrained in the most popular global sport since time immemorial. The simplicity of the game is in sharp contrast with its various shades of interpretation vested on the referees when making decisions, some of them very close calls.
With the passage of time these rules have only undergone small changes. This fact attests to the stability of this sport and the reliability on which the laws of the game are based.
The significant changes in recent years such as those relating to the backpass to the goalkeeper and the offside may seem cosmetic but they have definitely helped in speeding up the game and making it more spectator friendly.
The only lacuna is the IFAB’s (International Football Association Board) reluctance to introduce video clip reviews to help referees make the correct decision when controversy rears its head.
Recent friendly matches have served as trials for replays of dubious episodes which could open the way for referees to help them base their decisions on technological evidence.
FIFA is at last taking a leaf out of other team sports such as rugby and cricket – to mention two disciplines which are governed by rules based on variable mechanisms – in its readiness to consider ‘external’ evidence in circumstances of controversy.
One has to admit that FIFA’s caution has as its source the element of the players’ intentions when committing an infringement. This intent cannot always be established through video evidence.
Furthermore, the universality of the game makes it very difficult to implement the use of modern technology across the board.
Also, it has to be pointed out that in football there are myriads of decisions, not just linear, which demand close scrutiny.
Nevertheless, the world governing body is now softening its stance on the use of video which made its baptism of fire with goal line technology.
One can envisage that the guardians of the football laws will henceforth follow Rugby Union in gradually updating video evidence in line with modern practice.
If such a scientific game as rugby can rely on technology to decide on infringements resulting from scrums, rucks, knock-ons, line-outs and several set-pieces, as well as introduce the sin-bin, there are many who contend that football can follow suit.
Cricket is another example of a sport where the umpire’s decisions can be over-ruled through a limited number of reviews requested by the contesting teams as well as the umpires themselves in case of doubt over ‘leg before wicket’ (lbw), run outs and catches decisions, among others.
The bottom line is that the video referee cannot be easily applied to football in a bid to reduce grey matter or outright wrong decisions.
The doubts as to whether football can take this huge leap to eliminate controversy as much as possible will persist even with the advent of these new concepts of ‘external’ arbiter.
In the case of rugby, this game based on discipline has been the backbone of a sport which is regarded as ‘a thugs’ game played by gentlemen’. Cricket is very much on similar disciplined lines as rugby.
By contrast, the perception of football, is that it is ‘a gentlemen’s game played by thugs’.
Certainly, football can be lifted to the status of rugby and cricket.