Is it time for in-game video review?

As regular readers of our blog know, we at SoccerRefereeUSA have been at the forefront of the argument that technology – or more precisely a smart and judicious use of technology – is good for the game.  Thus, for example, we were very early advocates for the use of the goal-line technology (GLT).  Just to underscore this point, you can read our blogs on this subject here, here, here and here.

The successful implementation of the GLT technology at the last World Cup in Brazil, and its continuous and successful use in the English Premier League, prove that the our advocacy and analysis was spot-on and that the critics’ arguments that the game would be somehow forever changed for the worse unfounded.

Now, recent comments by Sepp Blatter, the head of FIFA, suggest that he may be open to implement more technology in soccer.  This is a bit of surprising because Blatter was adverse to any use of technology in soccer.  In fact, Blatter was a staunch opponent of the GLT technology for many years before he finally relented and allowed the GLT technology to be tested and then implemented.  What Mr. Blatter is proposing now is in-game video review of match incidents.  It was reported by that Blatter called for the technology to “be tested in 2015 in one of the world’s domestic leagues and/or the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand. Blatter said coaches would have the right to challenge a refereeing decision once or twice per half, but only when the game is stopped. Once the challenge is made, Blatter said, the referee and the coach would watch the replay on a nearby monitor, whereupon the referee would uphold or change the decision.”

We are cautiously opened to the idea of at least testing the technology because of the promise that the use of it holds: cleaning up the dishonesty (diving, exaggerating and/or faking fouls or injuries) and correcting some of the most crucial referee decisions erroneously made that change the outcome of the game.  As explained below, however, we have some concerns about Blatter’s approach to the implementation of the technology.

In a sense, many leagues already use some type of video review for their league matches.  For example, MLS Disciplinary Committee reviews MLS matches and match incidents relating to players’ misconduct and, where it deems appropriate, can reverse the referee’s disciplinary decision (red card) or mete out more severe or additional sanctions for the behavior the referee failed to punish.  And all of this is done solely on the review of video footage from the game.  True, what MLS does is after the game incident review so it does not impact the game as such.  Still, the level of “artistry” (read: trickery) in the modern game of soccer is so high that the after the game video review serves a very useful and important function: it deters and sanctions the misconduct that otherwise would go unpunished.

Here, however, Mr. Blatter is suggesting an in-game video review of match incidents.  This is not a new development for professional sports.  For example, American Football uses in-game video review to aid officials in their decision-making process.  Major League Baseball also implemented in-game video review for some game incidents.  While team officials – managers/coaches – are allowed to challenge some of the on-field officials’ decisions, the number of challenges is limited and not every decision can be challenged.  At the same time, the game officials retain ultimate authority to make the final decision. By and large, the use of in-game video review is now accepted and considered beneficial and indispensable in those sports.

There is no reason to believe that judicious and limited use of in-game video review could not work in soccer.  We are, of course, mindful that soccer – unlike Football and Baseball – is fluid and with minimal game interruptions.  In large part, this is what makes soccer, at least in our view, unique and exciting.  Therefore, any implementation of in-game video review must be limited and not cause undue interruptions to the game.

Many questions need to be seriously considered:

  • Who could challenge officials’ decisions?
  • How many challenges per game should be permitted?
  • Who would have the ultimate authority over match decisions?
  • Who would conduct the video review?
  • What decisions would be reviewed?

Mr. Blatter seems to think that allowing one or two challenges per half and permitting “the referee and the coach [to] watch the replay on a nearby monitor” would be workable.  We have serious concerns about Blatter’s approach because we believe it risks to cause undue delays and therefore fails to preserve the true nature of the game.

First and foremost, it seems to us that in order to limit game delays, only “game-changing” decisions (e.g. penalty calls) – and not just any decisions deemed erroneous by the coach – should be reviewed.  Also, the number of challenges should be limited to no more than one or two at most per entire game.  Moreover, the standard for overturning the referee’s decision should be pretty high such as beyond reasonable doubt or, at the minimum, clear and convincing evidence to discourage coaches from raising baseless challenges. And we don’t think that having a coach/manager present during the review is advisable or would aid the referee in his decision.  In fact, the opposite is a more likely result.

Finally, the question is who would make the ultimate decision whether the referee’s decision should be overturned or sustained.  Blatter thinks that the referee should make the final decision. We, intuitively, also initially thought that the referee should retain the ultimate authority over all match decisions, including those made after the video review.  This, however, may not be a workable solution because such process would undoubtedly cause lengthy delays to the game and, as we noted above, undue delays would forever change (for the worse) the nature of the game.  Consequently, we may have to consider a new position of neutral arbiter whose sole role would be to quickly rule on the challenges to referee’s decisions.  Those, in turn, could be communicated to the refereeing crew via radio thus significantly shortening any period of delay.

Many questions about the in-game video review technology remain unanswered at this time.  And many challenges abound.  For now, however, we are supportive of Blatter’s decision to allow for testing of in-game video review because, like GLT, this technology promises to make the game “cleaner” where the final scores truly reflect team efforts on the field.

Let us know what you think.

Categories: FIFA

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