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An eye on the world of football - When will the game catch up with technology?

Canadian-based football referee Michael McCormack starts a new column for Total Football today.

McCormack has refereed football at virtually all amateur levels, in both Canada and the US. His experience includes games at the Dallas Cup, the world’s premier youth tournament.

He played semi-professional soccer in Ontario, Canada and also played Gaelic Football, as well as, Australian Rules and Canadian Football. He is also a coach and has written a column for Canadian Soccer Magazine.

A background in the Gaelic game

I grew up playing Gaelic Football, under the auspices of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), in my native Ireland, with a weather eye on soccer in England, Scotland and abroad.

The Gaelic boarding school I attended was obliged to honour the 'Foreign Games Ban' then in existence under GAA Rule 27. Rule 27 banned GAA members from taking part in or watching non Gaelic games.

Punishment for violating this rule was expulsion from the organisation and it remained in place from 1901 until 1971. During that time people such as Douglas Hyde, GAA patron and then President of Ireland, was expelled for attending a soccer international.

I had to be careful with my affection for Association Football. Gaelic Football remains one of my passions. I have been a Manchester United fan since I was 10 years old and United stories will permeate my coloumn as I watch virtually every game. I am not blind to conspiracy theories and opinions involving Sir Alex Ferguson and his relationships with the FA, FIFA and not least, referees.

I originally supported United because they were good to Irish players long before it was fashionable to recognize the impact Irish players have on the game in the UK and that the word 'United' infers to the good of mankind. For me Manchester United represent a stability and continuance the human soul craves but is frequently denied by our ever changing world.

Digital technologies

Technology has a profound influence on the world of Football. Television provides views and elements of the game that in past eras existed only in memory and print. Emerging digital technologies offer a plethora of possibilities in improving how the game is viewed, managed, officiated and reported.

Technology touches everybody involved in football. Television and the internet shed new light on the personalities of those most visible in the game. There is no hiding from the camera. As the evolution of digital technology facilitates the creation of permanent record of anything mankind makes it will become increasingly difficult to escape the limelight. If it is captured by the camera it will be preserved in perpetuity.

The arguments for and against the use of emerging technology in football are myriad. The camera does not lie, although its product can be altered to create lies.

The following scenarios have a significant impact on a game and on a team’s success:

• a legal goal disallowed

• a illegal goal allowed

At a professional level, most matches produce only a few goals. For example, the English Premier League 2005–06 season, produced an average of 2.48 goals per match. The average for 2006-2007 was 2.63 and the same for 2007-2008. Last year it was 2.8. Not even 3 goals per match on average.

Imagine the impact then that one of the above scenarios has on the game and the League table. An improper goal awarded or, a perfectly legitimate goal not given. The mathematical impact, of a single occurrence, is in the range of 30-40%, which is simply astounding. Imagine if more than one of these scenarios occurs in a game.

On Saturday, November 26, 2011, Newcastle United was incorrectly awarded a penalty in a league game against Manchester United, which they subsequently converted. The final score was 1-1, thus depriving Manchester United of two points. The loss of these points may prove disastrous to their aspirations of a 20th title. The financial impact could be extraordinary. The impact on a lesser club could spell the death knell.

There can be no argument that the penalty would not have been awarded if referee Mike Jones had access to a TV screen or had information instantly relayed to him from an official viewing the replays on television. Sepp “Blather” Blatter’s rebuttal of the argument for TV replays or the relay of the information? The idiot claims “It will slow the game down”.

Every time I hear this pathetic excuse the breakables in my office are at risk. It is laughable. The time it takes for the fourth or fifth official to review replays and relay information to the referee is counted in seconds.

Bad decision

Very little when considering the far reaching impact of a bad decision. Even more outrageous given the lengthy celebration of any goal or the recriminations from the victimised, which easily can be used to view the replays. I will save the castigation of Blather and his cronies for another piece.

The fact that Jones made a complete hash of the communication process with assistant-referee John Flynn only compounded the problem. The relationship between the referee and his assistants and how to avoid this debacle will be addressed in future articles.

My treatises will explore many aspects of the relationship between technology and officiating and its broader implications. I will bring my football background and a long business career in technology to provide expert opinion on the many aspects of technology in the world’s most popular sport.

You can follow Michael at @m2c2plus or contact him at footballnoise@gmail.com

Michael McCormack is North American Business Development Director for UK based Atlas Products International:   www.atlasproducts.com


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