By Steve James, Reuters
New York: Two moments in World Cup history are guaranteed to start arguments between soccer fans, Geoff Hurst’s winning goal for England in 1966 and Diego Maradona’s ‘Hand of God´strike for Argentina 20 years later.
Adding fuel to bar room disputes, modern TV technology now shows up egregious errors by referees who wrongly disallow or award goals when the ball did not cross the line.
That is why FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, is considering bringing the sport into the 21st century by looking at introducing goal line technology.
It is not a novel idea-tennis, basketball, rugby and American football have used computer technology or video replays for years to help officials make the right call.
In ice hockey, the use of video to show if the puck has crossed the goal line has become a familiar feature of National Hockey League (NHL) games for a decade.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter has said goal line technology will be in place at the 2007 World Club Cup in Tokyo. A FIFA committee is assessing various forms of technology and whatever they choose will be operational by the December tournament.
If technology had been around in 1966, the referee would not have had to rely on a linesman’s eyes to tell whether Hurst’s shot crossed the goal line after hitting the underside of the bar in the final against West Germany.
But as for Maradona’s header over England goalkeeper Peter Shilton, the jury would still be out. FIFA is only considering technology to determine whether the ball has crossed the line.
The governing body opposes other forms of instant replays for judgment calls such as whether Maradona headed or handled the ball in Argentina’s 2-1 quarter-final win in Mexico City.
FIFA, which is studying camera-based goal line technology as well as a ‘smartball´ containing a computer chip, could do worse than look at the example of the NHL.
Mike Murphy, the league’s senior vice president for Hockey Operations, said cameras above goals were introduced around 1993.
“There was concern because some goals were going past the goalie and coming out or a goalie gloved the puck over the line and pushed it out,” he said.
“We were getting too many mistakes,” he said of the system where a judge behind each goal decided whether to turn on the red light to signal that a goal had been scored.
“It’s crucial because a goal in soccer is even more important than in hockey because there are fewer (scored).”
A video goal judge at each NHL game has the technology to monitor all plays and overrule the referee if there is video evidence the official missed a goal or awarded one in error.
“But you have to do it before the next stoppage in play,” Murphy told Reuters. “We like it done in 2-1/2 minutes.”
About 95% of goals are confirmed with the overhead camera, he said. It will determine if the three-inch diameter puck, sometimes travelling at 100 mph, has crossed the line.
But sometimes a body may be shielding the puck so a central video department in Toronto, which monitors games played and has access to all TV feeds, can make a final decision.
“If the refree does not call a goal and play continues, but the judge believes the puck was over the line, he can call for a review at the next stoppage,” Murphy said. “We then have to conclusively find the puck in the net (on video).”
Unlike in the National Football League (NFL), where each team can challenge a referee’s decision twice per game but is penalised with the loss of a timeout if it is overruled, the NHL does not allow teams to challenge a referee’s call.
“We talked about challenges, but were not sure if it would work. We make sure all goals are good goals,” said Murphy.
“We make four or five mistakes a year,” he added.
“One time, I know it (the puck) was in because of the position of the goalie, but he was wearing a black mask, a black jersey and the puck is black and we just could not find the puck.”
The NHL is also looking at technological changes.
“Can we get a chip in a puck that will signal a goal? Then you could probably do away with all the cameras and the guy who puts on the red light!”
Before 2000 video was used to determine such infractions but the 1999 Stanley Cup finals ended in controversy after the winning goal was scored from inside the goal crease, which was against NHL rules at the time.
No official challenge was made, even though TV replays showed the goal should not have stood.
As a result of Brett Hull’s score in triple overtime of Game Six, which gave the Dallas Stars a 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres, the league changed its rules to allow a forward to enter the crease.
It also decided video judges could only rule on whether the puck had crossed the goal line.
“All we can do is say whether it is clearly over the goal line,” said Murphy.
“The fans are happy, as we get the right call more often, but they are unhappy that it takes too long sometimes. Just like in soccer, hockey has a flow which we don’t like to interrupt.”