The importance of error


By Ben De Buen

The Confederations Cup match between Mexico and Portugal was the first to invalidate a goal using instant replay. The debate over the use of technology to increase justice in football has been ongoing and the lesser importance of the Confederations Cup has allowed it to become open to experiments.

As a result, the rules of the game have been better enforced, but the cost is perhaps greater than the benefits: human error and referee decisions will be less likely to affect matches, a loss which may be largely noticeable on the overall football narrative. It will be less organic, more scientific. Injustice is part of football. Pain is part of football.

There is no arguing with video replays. Arguments, far from focusing on the events of a match are at risk of becoming philosophical debates over the pertinence of such technology in football. Many sports such as cricket or tennis use video replay, but these are games characterised by sequential interrupted plays and have regular scoring. Technology based decisions in those sports may only impact on a minor percentage of the overall result, while in football, scoring or conceding can change a match.

Football would benefit from using replays to improve sportsmanship. For example when Sergio Ramos dropped to the ground pretending to have been struck by Juventus star Juan Cuadrado. His actions were far more damaging to football than an any goal that may have been incorrectly annulled or validated as a consequence of human error.

It’s not a matter of being purists and defending tradition just because. Technology would be welcomed in some cases, such as Ramos and his poor behaviour. However, Portugal’s annulled goal against Mexico seemed to attack the essence of the game.

Every football fan and player has been a victim of referee decisions. Some World Cup matches remain unresolved despite the final whistle. They are still being discussed and they still hurt. Referee limitations are part of the game. While most would prefer refs to stay out of the limelight, their decisions are part of the story of football.

Not to mention the increase in communication between those operating video technology and the referee. With instant replays, match decisions are no longer made in plain sight. Until now, the ref and the assistants may have made some regrettable calls, but at least they seemed to be legit decisions made on the pitch.

The very nature of football, its way of making the most out of nothing, seems to contradict the degree of scientific precision that would be reached with video replay. Football benefits from human limitation. It has gone relatively unchanged over the last hundred years largely because it has thrived regardless of technology—it forbids the use of hands, the very tool that we use to scroll our Twitter feeds with.

Football can live without technology.

Despite achieving maximum precision, instant replays will cause some matches to be decided by computers and the game will be more just, but this kind of justice is unfair to football.