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Friday, September 02, 2005 

Football authorities take a step closer to mitigating human error

Finally the powers that be in Football have taken a step forward to help eliminate human error.

Pundits and managers have been calling for goal line technology for a while, and only last season we saw two classic cases of human error having a significant effect on the fortunes of two premiership clubs. Mendes' shot on goal which caught Roy Carrol off guard, letting the ball cross the line by some distance before he quickly recovered and pretended nothing had happened, and the debatable goal given to Liverpool against Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final.

The Spurs v Man United game ended in a 0 – 0 draw. If not for human error from the linesman and the ref, Spurs probably would have won the game giving them a vital 3 points which could have resulted in a European place. Similarly, the debatable goal awarded to Liverpool resulted in Chelsea missing out on the Champions League final. Although not so clear cut as the Mendes goal, it is still an item for some debate and the uncertainty is extremely painful for Chelsea fans to bear.

Although uncertainty will never be taken away from the game completely (after all we are only human and we will make mistakes), a relatively simple technological solution is available to clear up the ‘was it a goal?’ debate in matches. Fifa president Sepp Blatter indicated that the new goal line technology would be trialled at the under 17 world championships and if successful it will be used in the 2006 world cup in Germany.

The technology involves a chip inside the ball and sensors along the goal line. As soon as the ball passes the line, a buzzer alerts the referee which eliminates the chance for human error. This move to taking tasks away from the human and assigning them to technology is a very common way to mitigate human error, and comes at various levels from taking the human out of the loop completely, to assisted control where the human is in control but the computer responds to requests from the human. The goal line technology suggested here is a more watered down version which aids the human in making decisions.

In comparison to other sports, the football authorities have been slow to introduce mitigation against human error. Athletics have been using digital precision timing for some time to avoid human error misjdgements leading to lesser atheletes being given unfair awards. In tennis, the cries of “you cannot be serious man, it was in” are long gone with the introduction of Hawk-Eye technology to leave umpires with little confusion over whether a ball was inside or outside of the line.

Some people argue that human error is part of the drama of sports, and the more technology is introduced, the more boring and clinical the game will get leaving people nothing to talk about in the bars afterwards. Although this argument may have some weight, it is unlikely that football will ever remove human error from referee decisions entirely and the introduction of video replay consultation still seems a long way off.

As a Chelsea fan, I can wholeheartedly say that we would have been in the Champions League final in May 2005 if it wasn’t for human error. In my job I regularly try to mitigate human error, so I am right behind new ways which attempt to minimise the negative effects from our almost inevitable human errors.


Related Links:

Fifa introduces goal line technology

More information on automation

Hawk-eye article

Worlds worst refereeing decisions

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