The use of technology in football has long been a controversial and contentious topic among players, coaches, fans, footballing bodies, administrators and most importantly match officials.
Some believe that the current system is fine as it is while others believe that technology is the only way to ensure close to 100% accuracy as far as vital on-field decisions are concerned. Ultimately there is never going to be much consensus and it is up to the law makers such as the International Football Association Board (IFAB), to decide what is best for the game.
However, football takes pride in being the number one, most popular sporting code on the planet. It is in essence a sport that strives to improve and ensure sustainable, long-term growth and success. It cannot afford to lag behind other codes that have already embraced technology as a medium for great improvement such as rugby, cricket and tennis.
This seems to be the primary reason for football’s recent advancements in attempting to welcome technology as part of the family and the way of the future.
Goal Line Technology (GLT) is arguably the one aspect of footballing technology that most were keen to get on board. There have been multiple incidents of balls crossing the line but not given as an official goal or the odd case in which a ball does not cross the line but is indeed given. One specific example is Englishman Frank Lampard’s effort in the 2010 FIFA World Cup match against Germany in Bloemfontein, in which a clear goal was not awarded due to human error. Such a decision can alter the entire course of a game and affect player morale among other vital aspects. However, by implementing goal-line technology, such errors will be a thing of the past and ensure fairness as well as reduce untold pressures on referees and their assistants. Yes the human element is lost and the cost a tad high but at the end of the day the correct calls will be made.
Video Assistant Referee (VAR) is a system that allows various decisions made by the head referee to be ‘checked’ and employs the use of headsets for communication and video footage. There are four key aspects that can be reviewed and these include: goals, penalties, red cards and mistaken identity (for red and yellow cards). Other sports have benefited from such a system for decades now and similar to GLT, it ultimately ensures that the correct decisions are made and guarantees fairness to one and all. Yes it will take some time getting used to, particularly for referees, but no longer can fans, players or coaches complain about one poor decision affecting an entire game. The system allows for recourse and correction and in essence also relieves pressure on the main referee who now has support. We have seen a number of incorrect red cards and penalty decisions over the decades which could now all be a thing of the past. Yes the system has taken a bit of flack in the ongoing Confederations Cup but FIFA president Gianni Infantino strongly defended the system by stating: “The VAR tests used during this Confederations Cup are also helping us to improve the processes and fine-tune communication. What fans have been waiting for over so many years is finally happening. This is a milestone tournament.”.
The South African Football Association (SAFA) itself strongly believes in the use of technology as a whole. SAFA’s Vision 2022 project contains seven key streams to success, one of which is technology. The association strongly believes in embracing, utilising and deploying appropriate football and administrative technologies.
One key aspect of technology that the body has always been keen to implement is the use of the above-mentioned digital registration system. SAFA in partnership with a Port Elizabeth software company, Inqaku, have been working on such a system. MYSAFA is the platform which aims to digitise the registration process of South African footballers, ultimately building an online database of all card carrying footballers. The system is currently being piloted in the Eastern Cape, where most recently total a number of administrators from SAFA Buffalo City, Amathole and Sarah Baartman regions were schooled in club and league setup, player registration and approvals. Obvious benefits of the system include the prevention of “age cheating” as well as restricting players from registering in multiple leagues and playing for different teams, issues which have plagued football development in South Africa. Germany is a prime example where the implementation of such a system revitalised the footballing landscape, it is no coincidence that they are the current world champions.
SAFA strongly believes in the use of technology for the betterment of football. The old adage of ‘innovate or die’ has never been more apt and the sooner such technological advancements are implemented, the better it will be for all concerned. Way too many teams as well as the careers of players and coaches have been affected by human error. Modern technology can and will revolutionize global football.
By Dhirshan Gobind