Goal line technology enters World Cup arena

Kevin Hilton writes: Goal line technology (GLT) was used for the first time at a FIFA World Cup on Sunday night (15 June), two years after being approved by the IFAB, the body that decides changes to the rules of football.

During the Group E match between France and Honduras the GoalControl virtual camera tracking system showed that the ball had gone into the Honduras goal but only after an initial, legitimate ‘no goal’ reading that confused players, fans and commentators alike.

GLT was long opposed by Sepp Blatter, the president of football’s world governing body FIFA, but several disputed goal decisions, notably Frank Lampard’s disallowed shot in the 2010 World Cup encounter between England and Germany, piled on the pressure for a change of policy. After extensive testing two companies were awarded licences to provide GLT systems: GoalRef, based on radio sensors and magnetic sensors, developed by Fraunhofer IIS; and Sony-owned HawkEye, a long-established provider of virtual tracking technology using multiple cameras. GoalControl, which also uses the camera method, was added to the list later and in October 2013 named as the official provider of GLT for Brazil 2014.

The technology is being used at all 12 stadia involved in this World Cup. The system was checked by FIFA’s accredited test house to ensure accuracy and robustness in different conditions, with nearly 2,400 goal-line incidents identified correctly prior to it being passed. Installations involve 14 cameras (seven for each end) positioned round a stadium on the roof or walkways to produce a 3D representation of where the ball is in relation to the goal line.

This is used to produce one of two decisions, either ‘goal’ or ‘no goal’, one of which is then sent to a wristwatch-like receiver worn by the referee. Despite this technological assistance, FIFA emphasises that the final judgement remains with the official on the pitch. Feeds from GoalControl are also distributed to broadcasters and video screens in the stadium.

The technology came into its own on Sunday when France striker Karim Benzema’s shot hit the right-hand post and rebounded along the goal line. Honduras’ goalkeeper, Noel Valladares, attempted to gather up the ball but it rebounded off his glove and over the line before he clawed it away.

Convinced Benzema had scored, the French players began celebrating. The Hondurans then protested when video of the ball hitting the post but not crossing the line was shown on the big screen, followed by the words ‘no goal’. As they surrounded referee Sandro Ricci, footage of the second part of the incident, with the ball hitting Valladares and going in, was screened with the decision ‘goal’. From the message received on his watch Ricci gave the goal and France went on to win 3-0.

A FIFA spokesman told SVGE that the GLT “worked as planned and proved to be an important support for the referee, confirming the goal via [his] watch in less than one second.” He added: “This goal was another example showing how only technology dedicated to evaluating such incidents can support the referee in the decision-making process.”

Regarding the confusion caused by the two conflicting decisions being shown, the spokesman said” “We have decided to adjust the guidelines in relation to the broadcast coverage so that, in future, only the key relevant GLT animation will be shown. In other words, for a similar unique situation like the goal scored by France against Honduras – where two goal-line incidents occur in quick succession – it is planned that only the animated replay showing ‘goal’ will be aired in the first instance for TV viewers and on the giant screens inside the stadiums. Our aim is to ensure maximum clarity, particularly for those unfamiliar with GLT, and to enhance the viewing experience for fans. We will focus on showing goal line incidents where it is relevant.”

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