Tech-assisted hindsight isn't always for the better

I yelled in disbelief along with probably half the world when the assistant referee in last week's World Cup game between England and Germany disallowed a goal shot by England midfielder Frank Lampard.Numerous playbacks showed that the ball had clearly crossed the line but the referee's naked eye missed it.

I yelled in disbelief along with probably half the world when the assistant referee in last week's World Cup game between England and Germany disallowed a goal shot by England midfielder Frank Lampard.

Numerous playbacks showed that the ball had clearly crossed the line but the referee's naked eye missed it.

That crucial mistake, among others made in the international football tournament, have renewed calls for video technology to be sanctioned in the next FIFA World Cup, as football fans--especially those in England and Mexico--mourn the early exits of their teams following bad referee decisions.

But, referees are humans and humans make mistakes. That's why there are so many IT tools today that are built specifically to lessen reliance on human input and curb room for human error.

After rejecting previous calls to introduce goal-line video technology, FIFA now says it will reconsider the possibility of implementing the technology to assist referees, so mistakes made at the games this year can be avoided in future.

It's great that the 106-year-old association is finally willing to embrace--even if it's now still just a possibility--the use of technology to help improve the game. Video technology, specifically Hawk-Eye, is already used in tennis and cricket. So its use in football will be a natural expansion.

But is tech-assisted hindsight always for the better?

In hindsight, there may be some things I would have liked to do differently. Then again, with hindsight, I may not be the person I am today since there would be fewer mistakes from which to learn and further improve my skills.

If we felt that all our mistakes would be captured with the help of technology, not all of us would still make due effort to remain careful about making any errors to begin with.

That's probably the reason I still spot spelling errors in the copies I edit. Writers assume Spellcheck would have caught the mistakes and don't bother double-checking for spelling oversights before submitting their articles.

If a football referee knew that Hawk-Eye had his back, he might lack the incentive to keep pace with the ball since he'd probably think: "Ah well, the camera can always correct me later."

He might also not feel compelled to post-mortem his own performance since there is no longer a need to strive for perfection now that a machine can do that for him.

More importantly, for me at least, a football match just wouldn't be the same without someone yelling out "referee kayu" at least once during the game. It's a simple two-word chant that describes a referee as, erm, dim-witted, but it's one that can help galvanize a stadium of fans and create an atmosphere so communal you'd think for a moment that world peace is actually attainable.

Technology isn't always perfect either. Some have questioned the accuracy of the Hawk-Eye system which is based on principles of triangulation via visual images and data transmitted by video cameras placed at various locations and angles around the area of play.

In a quarterfinals match at the Indian Wells Masters 2009, Hawk-Eye mistakenly captured the second bounce of the ball instead of the first, resulting in the wrong judgment of the gameplay which was eventually overruled by the human judge.

And it was only in March this year that FIFA discarded proposals to introduce video technology to assist referees, citing the importance of keeping the game technology-free.

"The human element of the game is a critical component of it," Jonathan Ford, chief executive of the Welsh Football Association, said in a report by The Guardian. "It's the thing ultimately we end up debating. That's the beauty of the game and it's what keeps people talking in the pubs afterward. I was worried you would end up with a stop-start situation where you review all decisions and I don't see that as part of the game."

In 2005, the Football Association in the U.K. also noted the need to ensure any use of technology will not unnecessarily interfere with gameplay. It said in a statement then: "The FA is willing to consider any goal-line technology that would improve decision-making while not disrupting the game. The key factor is whether a message can be transmitted immediately to the referee allowing him to take an immediate decision without interrupting play." It added that the implications video technology could introduce in terms of game interruption were "too much".

With the right guidelines and rules in place, technology-assisted sports can provide a better experience for both the game officials and players who will feel assured knowing they have the technology to assist in gameplay.

But it shouldn't create a situation where referees are second-guessed at every step of the game, and worse, where it encourages game officials to get lazy about improving their skills.

After all, it is the mistakes humans make that provide for better entertainment and spectator camaraderie. All together now, referee kayu!