How the referee failed to award France a penalty and send off West German goalkeeper Harald Schumacher when the keeper assaulted French substitute Patrick Battiston during the 1982 World Cup semi-final is one of life’s great mysteries. Battiston was clean through on goal when Schumacher administered the equivalent of a forearm smash, knocking Battiston unconscious and breaking his jaw.
Michel Platini, the midfielder responsible for playing the glorious through ball to Battiston, is now president of Uefa. If he still feels the injustice of 27 years ago, he refuses to contemplate the introduction of video technology. “For 100 years, the referee was the boss,” he muses. “Now the cameras control him in the big countries.”
Technology, maintains the former accomplished footballer, will “kill football”. He prefers human decision-making, while acknowledging its inherent fallibility. “My job is to help referees see everything,” he says. “That is why we are testing with an extra referee behind the goal [in the Europa League].”
He uses a similar argument to dismiss the notion of introducing goal-line technology to determine whether the ball crosses the line. “If the assistant referee is on the line, he can see whether the ball is over the line. And better to give the job to one guy than to spend €50,000 for each stadium,” he adds.
Platini’s response is bad news for Irish football fans, outraged at their elimination from the World Cup and for Dr Paul Hawkins, inventor of the increasingly ubiquitous Hawk-Eye, and his attempts to have goal-line technology introduced to football.
Hawkins’ company has developed a system for alerting the referee through his earpiece within half a second of the ball crossing the line, though despite their initial enthusiasm for the device, Fifa appeared to have gone cold on the idea. That was until Monday when Fifa president Sepp Blatter announced that goal-line technology and extra referees would be considered for next year’s World Cup. Fifa’s executive committee held an emergency meeting in Cape Town on Wednesday to consider introducing extra match officials, after which the proposal was recommended. It will now be presented to football’s rule-making international board in Zurich in March for a final decision.
“Something has to be done in terms of match control,” said Blatter, though there’s no word on goal-line technology.
Hawk-Eye has long been a feature of international cricket broadcasts – indeed, as a keen cricketer, Dr Hawkins developed his idea with the game in mind. It uses eight cameras to track the ball and is accurate to within 3mm. The technology’s ability to predict where the ball will finish proved good enough for the ICC to agree last month to use its predictive prowess in international cricket. In the space of nine years, Hawk-Eye has grown from Dr Hawkins and a friend to a full-time staff of 35 employees.
Apart from cricket, Hawk-Eye has also made a mark on tennis, becoming both an integral feature of broadcasts and a tool for players and officials to determine whether the ball was in or out.
Rolex sponsored the equipment at Wimbledon, while Chase sponsored it at the US Open. It’s understood that the system costs approximately £14,000 per court, per week.
“We’ve reached the point where Hawk-Eye pays for itself,” Dr Hawkins told me. “In fact, at Grand Slam events, the organisers now make money from their sponsorship arrangements.
“Because the core tracking system can be shared, it means that each broadcaster has their own dedicated machine to produce its virtual replay of that tracking information. This provides each broadcaster with the option to either brand or sponsor their on-screen graphics. It also means that the umpires have their own dedicated machine, which is separate from the broadcast.”
Hawk-Eye has enormous sponsorship potential and while we’re never going to have the technology in a Sunday morning park game, there’s no reason why its cost could not be deferred at football’s highest level. If it did cost €50,000 to install at league grounds, this could be recouped within a relatively short period of time.
Hawkins recently wrote to Blatter regarding goal-line technology, reminding him of an earlier declaration when he appeared in favour of it provided it was used “for goal-line decisions and only…by officials”. When I spoke with him he other day, Hawkins had not received a reply. “I don’t have a problem if Fifa say they don’t want goal-line technology,” he told me. “But saying ‘not now’ rather than ‘not ever’ is a little frustrating.”
This minor setback does not appear to have had a negative impact upon Hawk-Eye’s R&D department. Golfing applications are potentially enormous as the technology could be used not just to show how the ball travels, but how, by adjusting his grip, a player could improve the ball’s flight. “We are working on what I believe will be the greatest golfing video technology in the world,” says Dr Hawkins.
While the average Sunday morning hacker will readily embrace anything likely to improve his game, the same would not appear to be true of either Uefa or Fifa. This means that despite a football-focused Hawk-Eye having enormous commercial potential, dodgy decisions will continue to be a feature of the beautiful game, at least for the foreseeable future, the irony of which will, presumably, not be lost on Platini.