Thursday, February 7, 2013

Will goal-line technology bring justice to soccer?

It's not game over for goal line detection technology in soccer as some had feared: the systems wil be tested for another year. Although none of the technologies tested (see story, below) performed as required, FIFA and the International Football Association Board (IFAB) see enough potential in the offerings to attempt to finesse the technologies until they are match fit. FIFA says in this statement: "The IFAB received a presentation on the Goal Line Technology tests conducted by EMPA between 7-13 February at the Home of FIFA. The IFAB heard that none of the ten companies were successful in meeting the criteria set out by the IFAB Annual Business Meeting on 20 October 2010, and therefore agreed to a further one year testing period." A sporting miscarriage of justice that occurred last summer triggered a series of experiments that could this weekend see soccer (that's football to the rest of the world) change forever. The sport's world governing body, FIFA, is deciding whether to adopt technology that detects whether a ball has crossed the goal line or not. If it goes ahead, it will put soccer on a par with cricket and tennis, which have successfully adopted such technology to settle disputes on which the fate of whole competitions can turn. The event that led to it all was England midfielder Frank Lampard "scoring" a blistering equalising goal in last year's World Cup match with Germany (see picture above) - only to have it disallowed because match officials did not see that the ball had crossed the goal line by a full metre. FIFA president Sepp Blatter publicly apologised for the gross error and the event triggered the International Football Association Board - a conglomeration of FIFA and the four British football associations - to commission experiments into goal line technology (GLT). Some 10 companies have entered tests undertaken by the Swiss Federal Institute for Materials Research - or EMPA for short. There appear to be two leading ways of performing goal line alerting. One method is typified by the method posited by Hawk-Eye Innovations of Winchester, UK, which proposes using up to six ultra-high-speed video cameras trained on the goal mouth to assess the ball's flightpath. The firm points out that a ball travelling at 96 kilometres per hour (60 mph) moves one metre in each video frame at TV's regular 25 frames per second - so to boost analytical accuracy they shoot at 500 frames per second. In Munich, Germany, a firm called Cairos Technologies (nice animation there, by the way) places a magnetic-field sensing microchip inside the ball. This senses a magnetic field from current-carrying wires buried beneath the goal mouth - and after deciphering by a computer, this radios an encrypted signal to a referee's wrist-worn goal alert gadget. The tests were undertaken during daylight and under floodlights to see if they could cope with the ball being obscured or shadowed from some angles, says a FIFA spokesman. Entrants have had some tough specifications to meet: IFAB wants the goal decision sensed and transmitted to the referee in one second flat. "The indication of whether a goal has been scored must be immediate and automatically confirmed within 1 second," says IFAB in this statement. "It's one second due to the sheer speed of the game. The ball could be at the other end of the pitch - perhaps in the other goal - in 5 or 6 seconds," says a FIFA spokesman. Hawk-Eye Innovations has responded robustly to some claims that this one second rule may be unmeetable - you can read them here. At 1 pm GMT tomorrow, IFAB will announce whether EMPA's experiments with such kit have been successful - see a TV sports news channel near you - and whether it will now press ahead with developing such technology in the world's major soccer leagues. There are few straws in the wind as to how the decision will go: as of Friday lunchtime, firms taking part in the experiments seem to have been placed under a firm FIFA media lockdown.