The Difficulties With Spreading Live Video Analysis To Soccer

What issues are preventing live video analysis from being used in soccer?


Undoubtedly one of the biggest changes in sport over the past 5 years has been the introduction of live video analysis. This has meant that referees and umpires now have more power than ever to make the correct decisions and they have made the most of this.

If you think about the TMO (Television Match Official) in rugby as a prime example, then it works fantastically.

Here, in addition to the three pitch based referees, there is an additional referee away from the pitch with access to live feeds from rugby matches. This includes multiple angles and the ability to slow down or speed up the images in order to get a better perspective on any potential infringement.

In the recent 6 Nations Championship it allowed several potential tries to be either given or disallowed and more powerfully, to inform the referee of any foul player that he/she may have missed. For instance, James Haskell was given a yellow card in the England vs France match for a trip on Jules Plisson after the TMO, Ben Skeen, saw the incident and informed the referee, Nigel Owens, who punished the player.

We have also seen in tennis and cricket with the use of Hawkeye technology, that this kind of video analysis can be the point of winning or losing a match. Ultimately it allows players to always win based on sporting prowess, rather than refereeing mistakes.

Even in soccer we have seen technological innovations being used, with Hawkeye cameras now being used to detect if a ball has crossed the goal line.

However, it is not having the same impact as rugby or tennis, for one simple reason; the speed of the game.

At present the way that video analysis works in these successful implementations is either through appeal systems from players or officials, then analysis, then decision. Between these nothing happens in the game, it is a timeout, then the game can continue after decisions have been made.

In sports like soccer, hockey and similar field games, this can’t happen because the pace of the game would not allow it.

The time between receiving a free kick and the taking of the free kick is normally less than 10 seconds, unless it is a chance to shoot at goal. This means that there is roughly a 10 second window where decisions can be made based on video evidence. To look at an incident from multiple angles and speeds, then make an educated decision based on it would take significantly longer than this.

Soccer games need to have video analysis can be speed in officiating as any time lost during game time (with free kicks, injuries and throw-ins) is tallied then added at the end of each half. If games were paused for an extended period for every decision, it would add far too much time on at the end of each half, extending matches to an unmanageable length.

We have seen significant decisions that would have been rectified through the use of video analysis, such as the wrong players being sent off, simulation that has resulted in goals or even fouls that have been deemed to be simulation.

So is there a way to circumvent this timing issue?

At present there is not, simply because by the time a video referee would identify and communicate to the referee that there may have been a foul, the game would have moved on so far to have made it irrelevant.

In future there may be automated ways of analyzing this in order to alert referees, but even this would require stoppages within the game that would disrupt the flow.

So will this technology ever be used further than it is now? It will require a fundamental change in the way that people view, officiate and appreciate the games, so with the often archaic views in soccer especially, perhaps not.


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