Every four years, a large number of Americans feel a suddenly intensified love for the sport that they otherwise ignore — soccer.
And this year is one of them, with the World Cup taking place in Brazil. Hey, the U.S. team even won a match!
But in addition to the U.S. victory, there’s something else for American nerds to get excited about: After several controversial goal calls in recent years, FIFA, the federation presiding over the tournament, has implemented goal line technology for the first time ever.
“I’m firmly in the camp that strongly believes that its about time and should have had for a while. It’s really to me almost unfair to not use technology, for the players,” said Fox Sports soccer studio host Rob Stone in an interview with VentureBeat.
After considering and testing several companies’ solutions, including Cairos, Hawk-Eye, and GoalRef, FIFA settled on GoalControl, a German company.
Each of the 12 tournament stadiums is equipped with 14 high-speed cameras positioned around the field, with seven cameras focusing on each goalmouth (the area directly in front of the goal).
“The ball’s position is continuously and automatically captured in 3D and the indication of whether a goal has been scored is immediately confirmed within one second to a watch worn by each of the match officials,” according to FIFA’s website.
With such an immediate signal from the system to the watch, there is no need for lengthy interruptions to debate a goal. Referees receive “goal” and “no goal” alerts and can keep the game moving.
Because of its reputation and having it made to the final round of testing, it was a surprise that FIFA didn’t chose Hawk-Eye as the World Cup goal line technology provider.
Hawk-Eye is currently used in cricket, tennis, and snooker. The system is composed of high-speed video cameras at different locations, whose images it uses to triangulate and track the ball in flight. It can predict the ball’s flight path, and stores it in a database. The data can then be used by commentators, coaches, and audiences, and to determine player statistics. It then notifies referees’s digital watches within a second of the ball crossing the line. Professional tennis players Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have criticized Hawk-Eye’s accuracy, though Federer now supports its use in soccer.
“The final decision was based on criteria relating more specifically to the tournaments in Brazil, including the company’s ability to adapt to local conditions and the compatibility of each GLT system,” said FIFA in a statement about choosing GoalControl over Hawk-Eye and the other contenders.
FIFA’s decision to incorporate goal line technology is largely attributed to a 2010 World Cup game between England and Germany. Frank Lampard’s goal against Germany was disallowed despite television network footage showing it crossing the goal line before bouncing into the German goalkeeper’s hands. The game ended with a German victory, 4-1.
“The fans want the right call,” said Stone.
“It’s already been utilized a few times and its gotten things correct, which is what anybody really wants. It eliminates any confusion and eliminates any human error,” he added.
On June 15 of this year, France’s second goal against Honduras became the first instance in which the technology helped determine a goal.
Along with the accumulating goal controversies and resulting pressure, FIFA likely finally felt comfortable with bringing in technology after other soccer and sports authorities showed their support for it.
“It’s an older governing body in the soccer world that doesn’t embrace change as quickly and efficiently as they should. Seeing the leadership from elsewhere, and especially the States, saying that this can be done efficiently probably also helped,” said Stone.
The English Premier League voted in April 2013 to bring in goal line technology for its 2013-2014 season.
While the Major League Soccer (MLS) had been looking into implementing goal line technology to follow in the English Premier League’s steps, the MLS’s commissioner announced in April 2013 that it won’t be part of the 2013-2014 season mainly due to the costs.
Stone, however, believes it’s something American professional soccer is very open to and interested in finding a way of implementing it.
Goal line technology will likely remain a part of the World Cup in future years, although there are still concerns over tampering with “the human element” of refereeing.
“It’s a slippery slope when you take the human device out. That was one of the concerns of FIFA in the past. If we have goal line technology, where does it end?” said Stone.
FIFA originally attempted to avoid goal line technology by adding additional referees, assigned to the goals.
However, Stone believes that goal line technology will not only remain a part of the World Cup and international soccer given how much doubt and potential mistakes it removes from the game, but it has likely opened the doors for even more technology to assist refereeing.
“If anything that ends the conversation. They have the technology, they look at it and they say ‘you got me.’ There’s nothing to moan about,” said Stone.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if it comes to offsides at some point,” he added.
A player commits an offside offence when he is perceived as “actively involved” in the game and in an offside position, which means he is in the other team’s side of the field, he is in front of the ball, and there are fewer than two opposing players between him and the opposing goal line, with the goalkeeper counting as an opposing player.
Due to the complexity of an offside call, additional referees help in monitoring for offsides. The restart of an offside call is an indirect free kick, which can significantly impact the course of a game.
Stone believes goal line technology will enable referees to focus more on offsides which is important as those are still entirely monitored by humans.
In sum, it looks like soccer commentators may be the only ones losing out here.
“TV folks love controversy and talking points. That goal line technology reduces the controversy and conversation, but they’ll now be able to focus on other things,” said Stone.