Proposal for the video ref
Note, july 2017:
The things below were written by myself in 2007 - 2010. In the meantime, as we know, many changes have happened in football. Blatter is gone, following a corruption scandal, and the new boss Infantino (ironically an italian, but one I'd like to shake his hand) has started introducing the video ref in earnest. (Ironically again, Blatter did the first step, with goal-line tech at the World Cup 14 in Brazil. Now he's against any other advance in this area. He obviously wanted it all to end there, with goal-line tech. But Platini warned him that if he does the first step, others will follow. Truth is, it would have probably come anyway. He could have just delayed it.)
This is obviously a very welcome development, one we have to commend. Even though I believe Blatter is probably factually right, that if football really sorts out its officiating problems, it will lose somewhat in popularity. The wonderful fans of the beautiful game like it rough and half-legal, many of them anyway. But I don't think the hit will be very large, maybe something like 10 - 30%. And in the long term it will probably recover most of it. But for a greedy pig like Blatter, even a 10% loss of popularity would be enough to justify keeping things as they are. Keeping, as they say, the human face of football. Well, it's clear where I stand. Having near-perfect reffing would be worth it with a 10% or even 20% loss, for me.
For now things are just at the beginning. The video ref has only featured at the Confed Cup this summer, which is a friendly tournament. But I hear they want to have it next year at the World Cup too. Hopefully they won't change their mind, and probably by then they'll have improved the system somewhat. It will be a significant development if everything stays course. I expect it will, and I expect things will improve steadily in the years to come.
The only question is, how far they're going to go. As I wrote here, I don't think the video ref alone will cut it. They'll have to clarify the rules and the general reffing manner. Only so will they achieve a substantial improvement in consistency, which should be their main goal. This remains to be seen.
For now, let's just note that the second significant step has been done (the first one being goal-line tech in 2014). And the third one, the video ref at the World Cup next year, is very likely to follow. Which is cause for optimism, even if cautious.
It also has to be said that so far they're working along the lines I predicted back in 2010. First things to video correct: offsides and red / yellow cards. These are obviously the easiest ones. Then, after gaining some experience, they could include other things. So far I hear their system is much simpler than the one I proposed back then. But things are at their start. I still think they'll have to do it more or less my way if they're to achieve significant improvement. We'll see.
End of note.
As you know by now, I'm all for video help in football.
Arguing that it would be useful, fair and badly needed is knocking at open doors.
However, to my knowledge, the heaviest argument against it is that it would disrupt the flow of the game, and since the beauty of football relies much on its free-flowing style (which I certainly agree with) it cannot be done practically. This is a problem that definitely needs to be addressed.
However, I believe it can be done without disrupting the flow (too much), while at the same time getting a substantial improvement in officiating quality. Here's how:
Play is never stopped (until an offense is found), video review is done simultaneously by an off-field ref, or rather team of refs, assisted by the best possible real-time / replay video evidence. While they analyze incidents, the game goes on; this is the essence of the approach.
When offenses are determined, they signal to the field ref to stop play. The video refs are competent (of course) and organized such that they can handle 3 - 4 separate incidents simultaneously if need be (that is, if more incidents occur before the previous ones are completely decided).
The easy variant
For now, it probably would be best to start with a simple variant that is rather imperfect, but easily implemented in the current environment and a definite improvement over the present state of things. Then with time things would probably be extended.
This simple variant would feature the following key elements:
- The field ref retains total control. The video refs are just his assistants. They prepare the video evidence for him to see. They need to be competent enough to judge when a situation is realistically possible to have been an offense, that is not bother the field ref with every nonsense. But also, of course, not wave off themselves a situation that might have been an offense. When such a situation occurs, they prepare the relevant evidence then signal the ref. At the first stop of play, he looks at the evidence and decides if there was an offense.
It might happen that until the first stop of play, there are more (than one) incidents that need to be seen by the ref. But once the video evidence is in place it shouldn't take him more than a few seconds per incident to decide. So the interruption should be minimal.
- To make things as smooth as possible, things are limited to critical decisions such as penalties, plus off-side calls and offenses in situations that are likely to result in goals (such as attacker has the ball with nobody but the keeper to beat). The rest should be handled by the field refs as they are now.
- Offside situations are less ambiguous and are not the central referee's responsibility now either, so these can be called directly by the video refs. It's really obvious that an assistant whose only responsibility is to decide offsides and does it all on video, so no need to run, and has technical help available such as virtual vertical lines and frame freezes - such an assistant will definitely do a better job than one who has to run and has a lot of other things to watch for. Besides, there would be more of them, such that if one is busy for a few seconds deciding one situation (it shouldn't take more), the other ones can take over.
- Yellow and red cards are also shown only based on video replays. This is one thing that very likely could be easily done, since it has very little influence on the flow of the game. Until the video brigade determines that a red (or second yellow) card is in order, the player stays a minute or 2 on the field; during this time, of course, he contributes to the effort of his team and it might happen that he even scores a goal. This possibility has to be accepted; on the whole, it's much better to let a player stay 1 - 2 minutes longer than to risk a wrong dismissal / non dismissal decision.
- When a goal is scored, play stops and all pending incidents are analyzed to the end. If no offense is found (or if all offenses are against the scoring team, so they can be ignored based on the advantage rule), the goal stands. This video validation of every goal shouldn't take more than 2 minutes. Typically much less. And the play is stopped anyway. It's a small price to pay for being reasonably sure the goal is indeed valid.
Even this simple variant would likely be pretty costly, at least at begin, maybe with time technology will improve and get more affordable. So I'd like to see this as soon as possible applied at least for the Champs League and World Cup, to begin with. Besides, these are cup-like tournaments where ref errors matter more than in league tournaments. With time and with experience, as well as technology advances, it might become more wide-spread. But hey, if wealthy leagues like the Premiership feel it's worth doing it as well, they should.
The bare minimum would be yellow / red cards and offside offenses; these should be decided on video as soon as possible, even if for the time being it may be better not to go further. It's hard to see any valid reason against it. It would also be a test for the whole system; if it works out well and with consistent benefits, it can be extended to the other offenses, first of all those happening in the penalty box.
Probably the most important problem is when a goal is scored while a decision is being made. For instance a penalty call is analyzed, which may take 1 - 2 minutes, and in the meantime (since play continues until the offense is determined) it may happen that a goal (maybe even more) is scored at any of the ends.
For one thing, this won't happen very often. I imagine there will be much fewer such cases than there are now wrongly awarded or un-awarded penalties. They will happen though, of course. When they will, it won't be the end of the world. There are a number of possible ways to deal with such situations, all way better than simply ignoring the video evidence.
This applies only for the case when in the end the ref team determines there was an offense, and when the goal is scored by the offending team. If there's no offense, of course any goal stands. If the offended team scores, the goal always stands as a fair advantage, and of course the penalty / free kick isn't taken any more.
- Simplest approach, though not necessarily also the best: just ignore everything that happens after the first offense determined by the video refs, including a goal (by the offender team, as said).
- Best approach in my opinion, ignore a goal scored without the offending team losing control of the ball. Once the offended team gets control, everything reverts to normal, that is if they then lose it and the opponents score, then the goal stands as belonging to another run of play. Then, if for instance the video refs determine that the initial offense resulted in a PK, both the PK and the previous goal stand.
With this approach, it's for the refs to appreciate when the offended team are firmly in control of the ball, as opposed to situations when the fight for it is ongoing. However, when a team has a free kick or a sideline kick, it definitely is in control of the ball.
- There could be a time limit for disallowing goals. it might be something like one minute. Thus, a goal is canceled only when the final decision of the video ref brigade is that the scoring team committed an offense less than one minute (or whatever the grace period is) before scoring it.
- The time limit and the offended team gaining control condition could be combined.
- Other elements might come to play. For instance, the offender team having a free or sideline kick that isn't taken quickly could also be considered as starting a new run of play, since the offended have time enough to organize their defense. Thus, any goal scored afterwards is valid.
- All this could and probably would be combined with the advantage law. Once the offended team win the ball back and place themselves in a better position than would be granted following the offense, then play goes on in their advantage and the refs can abandon analyzing the incident. Of course, when the team then loses the ball, it's their loss, they were given an advantage which they failed to materialize.
A special case is when the offended team first scores a goal, which is allowed, then the offender team scores back one or more goals, all of this inside the time limit. In this highly improbable case, of course the goals of the offenders have to count as well.
In any case, even when a goal is disallowed as above, the minutes played count for the total time of play.
All this may seem complicated, it probably is, and other details might arise that would have to be sorted out. This is just a broad outline of a possible solution. However, it should be clear that it's almost certainly possible to do something reasonably simple but still much better than the current state of things.
A typical situation might be as follows:
A challenge in the box happens which might or might not be a penalty. The field ref is well placed and thinks it was a foul, but is not very sure. He communicates his opinion to the video refs. These analyze the video evidence, which might take them 1 - 2 minutes. In the meantime, play continues.
Scenario 1: The attacking team scores so the goal stands as a fair advantage.
Scenario 2: The defending team clears the ball, then the central ref with the help of the video evidence prepared by the assistant refs decides there was no penalty. Thus, play continues without a break i.e. no disruption to the continuity of the game.
Scenario 3: The ball is cleared but the central ref decides that it was a penalty so he blows.
For the first-approach variant outlined above, I've considered the case that the video refs are just assistants to the field ref. An alternative to be considered is that the video refs are the final judges of their respective incidents. In this variant, the field ref never makes decisions, but rather communicates his opinion to the team of video referees; they make the decisions.
This might not work very well in practice under the current circumstances. There might be a problem that more referees are to judge incidents within the same match. With the vague rules and the vast gray area as they are today, that might lead to unacceptable inconsistencies, because the styles of the individual refs would differ.
This should be solved by specifying the rules and having the refs stick to them, to the point that the inconsistencies are so much reduced they don't matter any more. It would be of course the best way to do it, however it's probably much easier said than done.
(See the murky details on the referee errors page for more detail about this.)
Within the current environment, this might be fixed by either choosing for every game refs with very similar style, or having just one video ref per game. If he has to handle only foul and handball incidents (the other ones are well defined) and if only penalty and other goal-significant situations are to be corrected, it might be enough, even if the correction times might extend a little.
If necessary, there could be a referee for fouls, one for handballs and one for the other offenses.
A more appealing possibility would be that there is a head referee and more assistant video refs. These just prepare the video evidence for the head ref and give him their opinion, but the head ref is the one who looks at the evidence and decides whether there was an offense. This way, the unity of decision making is ensured.
As above, there could be a head ref for fouls and one for handballs, though this shouldn't be necessary, once the ref has the conclusive video evidence it should be just a matter of seconds until he makes up his mind.
Moreover, the head ref could be the same person as the field ref, or he could be different. Both these options have pluses and minuses, probably both should be tried out. If the field ref runs the show, he has the advantage of being the only one who also sees the action live with his own eyes. At least in the near future, this is probably important; with time, technology and video ref team organization advances might render it less so. Then of course it's much closer to the way things are done now, so it might be a good place to start in order to have a smooth transition.
The head ref being a different person from the field ref also has a big advantage, which is that he doesn't run around any more, he just looks at the evidence and makes the decisions. It's obviously an important benefit. Moreover, this means that older refs can be in charge who aren't fit enough to run any more, but instead have a plus of experience. As an added bonus, this way the head ref wouldn't be in direct contact with the players any more; it would be rather pointless to argue with the field ref since he's not the one making the decisions any more.
A possible quick fix would be to let teams appeal a number of decisions per game, which would then be reviewed by the ref on video. This is demanded by many.
I'd imagine 3 calls per team per game would be OK; as a minimum there should be at least 2 I guess. Of course, if a call is granted by the ref, it doesn't count; so actually each team is allowed a number of wrong calls.
Appeals would be done when the game has stopped. Teams should have a reasonable amount of time, perhaps something like 2 minutes, to appeal a decision. Any goal scored in the interval would stand, regardless of the appeal's result.
It might be a good place to start, together with granting cards, offsides and possibly also ball in/out of play based on video technology. It would hopefully improve things much, it might even prove to be enough.
However, there are also issues with this.
For one thing, it wouldn't solve much of the problems of a full video ref system (that is, all decisions are made by default on video as described above). Each team would have to have their own video ref or rather ref team. While they analyze an incident, the game goes on and others might occur. So they'll have to have more refs to be able to timely handle at least 2 - 3 incidents simultaneously. During this time goals can be scored, so the same resolution has to be applied regarding which ones stand and which ones don't.
Moreover, the appeals system is probably less efficient than the full video ref. Each video ref team would of course only handle the decisions against their own team. This makes for less efficiency than if the same total number of video refs from both teams would treat incidents for both teams as they appear.
Most importantly though, the appeals system would likely be unjust. Clubs like ManU or Chelsea could afford larger and better video ref teams than lesser clubs could, which would almost certainly at times play out in their favor. Now, as we all know football is far from an ideal world where everybody is on equal terms, regardless of their money, so this might be viewed as part of how things generally are. However, I don't share this view. I'd much rather have the decision process be even for all teams, big and small, even if of course the richer teams will always have the advantage of better players and technicians.
So, for the time being at least, I don't like the appeals system idea very much. A full video ref system would probably be preferable. If it's deemed too radical to start with, then, as said, treat just cards, ball in / out of play and offsides by video and let the rest as it is at first, then with time extend it to penalty area and possibly also other offenses.
The offside rule
Offside offenses are easier to judge so they'll take less time for the video ref brigade. A time limit of maybe something like 30 seconds could be set, such that if the offense (or at least the position) cannot be determined within it, then it's not clear-cut enough so play can continue.
To make things even smoother, the rule could be a little adjusted such that there's no offside unless the play results in a goal or free kick (including corners). Only then will the video refs have to decide if there was an offside in the buildup.
Additionally, a time limit could be set that a goal / FK is disallowed only when an offside is found to have occurred within that time limit before it; this limit could also be something like 30 seconds. Otherwise, if there was an offside more than 30 seconds before, it can safely be assumed that the defending team had plenty of time to regroup so the offense didn't have much influence. This would then limit the play the video refs have to look at in order to find offside offenses.
Even without the time limit, it wouldn't take them more than perhaps a minute to do this validation, and the game is stopped anyway. So the parallel decision making can be avoided in this case.
All this would only work with the video ref. Since, at least at begin, this wouldn't be available generally but only at higher levels, it would mean that the offside rule is different for video-officiated games than for the other ones. In my view, this would be acceptable. Practically the rule would in fact be the same, because it would be the same when it matters, when the play results in a goal or free kick. Thus, the apparent rule change isn't actually a rule change, but a change in the way of enforcing the same rule.
As an added bonus, this would perhaps even improve the game flow, since many offside situations wouldn't be called any more.
People who publicly called for or approved of the video ref
Sven-Goran Eriksson, as early as September 2002
Arsene Wenger, October 2006
Alex Ferguson, January 2007
Markus Merk, March 2008
Graham Poll, October 2008
Guus Hiddink, May 2009
and probably a lot of others.
(For comparison, FairFootball started early 2006.)