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Editorial Editorial video games

Referees’ increased use of technology seems inevitable but it will fundamentally change the game

Arsenal have developed a reputation as innovators during Arsène Wenger’s time in charge. Now their supporters too are setting a trend. To date over 1,000 have signed an online petition to the FA, demanding that Jon Moss no longer be allowed to referee their matches. This was in response to the official’s performance in Arsenal’s 4-0 Boxing Day defeat at Southampton whose f i rst three goals a l l resulted f rom questionable decisions. (One of the signatories on the petition is a Southampton fan who felt that refereeing mistakes deprived his team of an even bigger win.) This is the second such petition created by Arsenal supporters this season, with over 100,000 demanding that Mike Dean be banned after he sent off two of their players during a 2-0 defeat to Chelsea in September.

While the self-important tone is easy to mock, it would be fair to assume that most of the signatories are simply venting frustration. All but the lunatic fringe – always a smaller group in reality than they appear online – would know that if their demands were to be acted upon, it would be a calamity. Accepting that someone could be suspected of prejudice against certain teams, while still capable of taking other games, would damage the status of all the match officials. Some former League referees here are still derided by certain supporters decades after they retired – such as Ray Tinkler who awarded an offside goal in a defeat for Leeds that may have cost them the title in 1970-71 – but this is due to the outcome of a major game being affected by what looked like an error, rather than inherent bias.

FA chairman Greg Dyke is apparently confident about the outcome of the plan (speaking after the IFAB rejected a similar proposal last year, he said “even the ones who were most against it accept it’s going to happen”) and has already suggested that the English leagues be used to test out the technology, possibly next season. Those in favour – sadly, that seems to include a majority of supporters – may see it as logical progression from the use of goal-line cameras, but while they resolved one clearcut issue, this would fundamentally alter the rhythm of a game. Instead of eliminating controversies it would multiply them in some cases, with referees criticised for not consulting their colleague in the stands, or the latter blamed he recent Rugby World Cup featured a series of controversies over the decisions made by the video official, along with complaints that the game referee’s authority was being undermined in the process. That the television networks are strongly in favour of something that will strengthen their influence over football is reason enough to think that will it will come to pass, and an argument for why it should still be opposed. Match referees will either be able to request help from a video assessor or receive instructions from him when the game is going on for giving wrong advice.

Before the start of this season, Mike Riley, the head of the referees’ ruling body, Professional Game Match Officials Ltd (PGMOL), announced that the accuracy rate of officials’ decisions had dropped slightly over the previous year, down by one percentage point to 94 per cent. This was a rare time when a public statement by Riley was not treated with scorn by several former colleagues, who, like previous generations of referees turned media commentators, prefer to think that standards were higher when they were working. (One of the most vocal critics of current officiating is Graham Poll, who was sent home from the 2006 Word Cup after failing to notice that he had booked Croatia’s Josip Simunic twice without sending him off.) Whatever statistics PGMOL produce in their defence, however, will never be enough for the utopians who insist that refereeing decisions ought to be 100 per cent accurate – an outlook that may soon be formally endorsed.

he four British football unions hold half the places on the body that can change the rules of football, the International FA Board (IFAB). Their next meeting in March will consider a survey recently sent out to clubs. It involves the trial introduction of video technology to aid decisions in all major areas of the game, including penalty awards, offsides and red cards. Match referees will either be able to request help from a video assessor or receive instructions from him when the game is going on, while managers might be allowed to use relays to challenge a certain number of decisions.

Referee Jon Moss manages to upset Arsenal with his officiating during their Boxing Day defeat at Southampton images getty

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