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Goal line technology: Lets not get VARcical

The ball had crossed the line, Lucy Bronze was sure of it. The goal should have been given, the ball had crossed and her team had been forced to play into extra time because of the error. Seven weeks prior the same defender had stood in front of the media and proclaimed that the ball did not cross the line, she was sure of it, the officials had been right not to allow the goal: the ball had not crossed.

We squinted at the video of the incidents, had strained and stretched in our seats during the goalmouth scrambles. One camera angle followed by another, frame by frame. In Southampton the ball had hovered above the line, the cameras suggested it had crossed, it was cleared too quickly for the human eye to analyse. It hadn’t been given and Wales went on to miss out on a play-off berth for the World Cup by two points.

In Kyiv, the ball had looped, again it sat above the line, the camera nearest gave a slanted angle. In both cases, the video evidence suggested the ball had crossed, it both cases no goal was given. Ultimately, Lyon went on to win their match comfortably [in extra time] and the added time had no adverse effects on the players. In both cases, Bronze had been certain but there was and is still, no definitive way to know for certain, and as usually the case, if something isn’t 100% nailed on, it’s not given.

The calls for goal line technology aren’t new in women’s football and maybe if we had it in 2018, the Dragons might have made their World Cup debut. Or maybe not, play-offs aside, we’ve learned that when it comes to GLT and VAR, the human eye doesn’t see with the same scrutiny as a plethora of video cameras and split-pixels. Whilst those in the men’s game in England still argue and bite over the use of the video assistant referee in the league, those who enjoy women’s football are still feeling the effects of the clumsy use at the World Cup six months ago.

Derby decisions

In Leigh earlier today the ball had…not….not crossed or maybe… The clutch of bodies obstructing the view of the main camera hadn’t made it possible for those watching to make an informed decision. The camera behind the goal suggested the ball hadn’t fully crossed the line, the fans in the stands disagreed: it had. It was a costly one for Manchester United who fell by three goals to two and were knocked out of the FA Cup and that was that, 90 minutes of football and more debates about technology in football abounded.

Goal-line technology, a simple concept, VAR’s happier cousin, something that didn’t require a set-square and debate about what freeze frames were being shared. For those who partake in the Premier League, who tune in week after week watching the top tier of English football, GLT is commonplace. Even for those who enjoy European football, be it German, Italian or French, GLT has been in place for years, it’s a normal part of the game. But away from a handful of leagues, the technology doesn’t exist, or rather, it’s not implemented – according to FIFA, only 107 stadiums are equipped with GLT.

Rising costs

The last estimated cost of GLT in England was £250,000 per ground with additional installation fees and a cost per match – the figures are similar around the world, $260,000 for use in the MLS, €250,000 (up to €500,000) for the Bundesliga. Just two years ago, the Scottish FA cited the vast costs as the reason GLT would not be used in the Scottish league.

Even in a 12-team league in WSL that’s still asking clubs to find a quarter of a million pounds each, or, asking the FA to foot the £3,000,000 bill. And that’s before we ask if each ground would be able to take the technology, and seems at odds with the very fact that teams in the top flight are playing at training grounds, or on marshy pitches, or don’t have simple tech’ like a scoreboard.

Over and over again, we force women’s football to fight with itself, asking it to grow organically then pumping it with growth hormones, telling it to hurry up and catch up to men’s football – the sport we can’t help but constantly compare it to. Mistakes were made in men’s football before VAR and before GLT, even at the highest end of the game and on the biggest occasions, simple human error from the officials impacted the game.

We know the standard of officiating in women’s football is a long way below the standard in the men’s game – a standard that we constantly bemoan – and we know full well that the players deserve better. Thankfully, there are slow steps being made to improve the levels of refereeing in women’s football in England (even if not elsewhere around the world), and maybe that’s all we can ask. That the referees are given the tools to help themselves, that the pathways are there, we know even the officials are playing catch-up to the evolving standard on the pitch but, just like in the men’s game, mistakes will be made. Some will be costly, others not, one week one team will be negatively affected, the next they’ll benefit from a poor decision.

Goal line technology and VAR have no place in women’s football, not only could and should the money be used elsewhere in the game but especially with the latter, there are so many flaws yet to be ironed out, as well anyone who watched the World Cup knows. Patience is the call, even if it does little to soothe irritations of costly errors.

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