The 124th Annual General Meeting of the International Football Association Board (IFAB), chaired by FIFA as is traditional in a FIFA World Cup™ year, was marked by the major decision to no longer pursue the development of goal-line technology. It was a decision taken after considerable reflection and one explained at length to the journalists present for the occasion in Zurich on Saturday 6 March.
“The IFAB has decided not to pursue goal-line technology and to no longer continue experiments in that area,” explained the FIFA Secretary General, Jerome Valcke, in his opening statement. “The question posed to the members of the IFAB was simple: should we introduce technology in football or not? The answer from the majority of members was no, even if was not unanimous.”
A significant decision, it was arrived at for a number of reasons, with the most important undoubtedly revolving around the philosophy of the game. “The human aspect of football is essential to this sport,” said Jonathan Ford of the Football Association of Wales. “The big moments in this sport – whatever they are – get supporters talking and go down in history. That’s what makes this sport so vibrant.”
"We were all agreed that technology shouldn’t enter football because we want football to remain human, which is what makes it great,” added Patrick Nelson of the Irish Football Association. “The fans keep talking about these matches again and again, and relive them.”
The IFAB’s ruling on such an important subject will undoubtedly have a significant impact, but it was much more than a straightforward technical decision. “We’re conscious of how the public might react,” explained Ian Watmore of the Football Association. “We saw demonstrations which had a lot in their favour and it was all very positive, but the question we asked ourselves was whether the future of football is tied up with technology and the answer was no.” Gordon Smith of the Scottish Football Association offered some insight into the types of experiment proposed: “One of the technologies consisted of a chip in the ball and the other involved cameras in the goal.”
“If we introduced technology for goal-line situations, then why not use it for other situations?” said Valcke. “Use it for offsides and contentious moments and you end up with video evidence. That’s not what was decided. We want to keep the game as it is.” Ford echoed those thoughts: “We don’t want the game to be interrupted countless times.”
Valcke emphasised that the decision had been reached after careful deliberation. “We dissected all the studies and investigations, and this is a discussion that has been going on for a long time at FIFA and in the associations that make up the IFAB,” he said. “We based our decision today on all those thought processes. The IFAB is the guardian of the Laws of the Game: that’s its power.”
The IFAB is nonetheless conscious that referees need assistance in making decisions, which is why refereeing experiments will continue. “Concerning additional assistant referees, which are being tested in the Europa League at the moment, we’re waiting for the end of the experiment at the end of the tournament before reaching our final decision on 18 May at a special meeting of the IFAB,” said Valcke.
“As for the role of the fourth referee, the question was whether or not he should be able to inform the referee on the pitch of incidents he has seen,” concluded Watmore. “Not just in a report after the match but in a way that he could actually help the other referees. A decision over the extension of his role will also be made on 18 May.”