Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Michael Burgess: No place for technology in 'beautiful game'

Beijing's Yu Tao getting a red card during the closing stages of the Sister City Cup between Wellington Phoenix vs Beijing BG. Photo/Photosport
Beijing's Yu Tao getting a red card during the closing stages of the Sister City Cup between Wellington Phoenix vs Beijing BG. Photo/Photosport

Sepp Blatter was right.

It's not a sentence I ever imagined writing, but it has to be said, after the farcical scenes in last night's match between the Wellington Phoenix and Beijing BG.

The long-time former Fifa president was always against the use of video technology in football and extremely cautious around the implementation of it.

There are a long list of negatives associated with Blatter's reign - far too many to mention here - but he was on the money about the use of replays and slow motion to assist in on-field decision making.

The scenes during last night's Capital Cup clash between the Phoenix and Beijing, where Video Assistant Referees were being used for the first time, illustrated why.

The match was stopped for almost two minutes early in the second half, before the officials determined that the home side should be awarded a penalty for an innocuous goal-mouth incident from a free kick.

It was a weird decision. This wasn't a howler that had been missed by the referee, but instead, a barely perceptible push in the back of an attacking player that was nowhere near the ball, combined with a clip of the ankles, which looked accidental at best.

Maybe, by the letter of the law, it was the correct decision - but probably not.

Thankfully, this was a low-profile friendly clash for the Capital Cup. Imagine if it happened in a Melbourne A-League derby?

Or even worse, a Liverpool versus Manchester United clash at Anfield or a Boca Juniors match with River Plate at La Bombonera?

Such a delay would provoke frantic scenes in the crowd, but as shown last night, even with the assistance of video technology, the decision was far from conclusive either way.

And as the stakes got higher, the amount of referring would increase dramatically, especially to look back at the lead-up to goals.

Football's key point of difference, compared with most other team ball sports, is its flow.

The game almost never stops - decisions are made (usually) on the spot and play goes on.

Sure, the officials get some things wrong - Thierry Henry's hand ball against Ireland in 2009 is the most infamous recent example - but they also get a lot right.

At the top level, football referees make a series of split-second judgements and are usually on the money. The assistant referees are also skilled at deciphering the offside rule and are proved right on the vast majority of occasions.

The officials do need some help - and the goal-line buzzer used in the English Premier League works - but use of technology in Tuesday night's manner will bring too many problems.

And unlike league and rugby, which are confined to a few professional competitions in Europe and Australasia, football has high-profile leagues across the globe, not to mention the massive series of World Cup qualifying matches this year.

The solution is to provide more human assistance. As UEFA have trialled in their Champions League matches, an assistant referee (or two) need to be stationed behind each goal.

From there they can provide an extra set of eyes for all kinds of goal mouth infringements and also aid the referees after penalty appeals, when a through ball has been played and the whistler is metres behind the play. ​

- NZ Herald

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