After years of debate and controversy the Premier League at long last implemented Goal-Line Technology for the 2013-14 season. On Monday night, we saw why it was necessary.
Arsenal saw their 10-game unbeaten run broken after a 0-1 loss at home to Swansea City. For much of the game it looked as if neither side would be able to find a breakthrough and the match would peter out to a dull, goalless draw. Yet in the dying minutes of the game, Bafetimbi Gomis headed home the winner. Initially however, it looked to those watching live on television or in the stands as if David Ospina made the save.
Nevertheless, after a few tense moments the referee Kevin Friend pointed to the center spot—Swansea had been awarded the goal. Some Arsenal players protested, but Friend felt supremely confident in his decision. The reason? Goal-Line Technology.
Without the assistance of the Hawk-Eye computer tracking system, Friend likely wouldn’t have seen the ball cross the line. The linesman might have seen it, but the margin of error would have been very high. As it is, the high-end tracking system that utilizes an array of cameras and complex software provided the last word. Friend only needed to wait a few seconds to see whether the watch on his wrist beeped.
The uncertainty behind goal-line saves and clearances are why support for GLT has grown in recent years. While there has always been frustration from club and league officials over how to correctly adjudicate dubious goal decisions—essentially making it so the ball had to hit the back of the net in order to guarantee that the goal would be awarded—high-profile controversies in the 2010 World Cup, Euro 2012, and previous Premier League seasons created a groundswell of support for implementing GLT systems in domestic and international competitions.
Goal-Line Technology was not without its critics. In 2014, the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga voted against utilizing GLT, citing exorbitant costs per club for implementing the technology. Yet they too ultimately came around and will be using the same Hawk-Eye system the Premier League uses starting with the 2015-16 season. There is another argument that using technology to support referee decisions compromises the “human element” of the game, saying that football should retain an element of imperfection and unpredictability. While seductive in its appeal to romanticism and nostalgia, the argument simply does not hold up well under scrutiny.
Ultimately the benefits of using GLT outweigh the costs. While Swansea aren’t in contention for any trophies or European spots as the season winds down, part of their revenue is dependent on their final league finish. For Arsenal, the loss could mean the difference between qualifying directly for the Champions League group stages next season and having to survive a qualifier round in August.
Gomis’ goal likely wouldn’t have counted without Goal-Line Technology, and that goal meant the difference between a draw and a win for his team. Even for mid-table sides, the stakes are too high to have major decisions in games turn on human error.