Thursday, November 19, 2009

Henry Gives France a Hand into The World Cup

Another week and another call for the use of video replay in sports.
This time from the football (soccer) World Cup qualifier between France and the Republic of Ireland.

Frances' William Gallas scores from an assist by team mate Thierry Henry. Replays and video evidence clearly show that Henry used his hand, intentionally, to control the ball before crossing it.

Watch the video below. Although I believe that Irish football commentary is often biased for their team, the commentary in this video is not biased. It is obvious that this goal should have been disallowed by the referee or the linesmen.

Henry admitted after the game that he had used his hand. I am not sure that any player with the desire to win this do or die World Cup qualification game would not have risked the same. I am sure he even expected the goal to be disallowed. Henry conned the referee and linesmen. Similar cases, particularly of players diving to win penalties, are prevalent in football at all levels and throughout the world. Players should never in my opinion deliberately try to con the referee. However I have no intention of passing judgement on Henry's character or that of any other professional athlete. This website is about video analysis, so once again we will harp back to a previous discussion on the use of technology and particularly video replay in sports.

In this particular instance we had some clear evidence of the hand ball from the TV footage. But again we need to point out that the evidence is not always that clear. See our previous post on video technology for refereeing. There have been numerous calls in soccer when the decision could have gone either way because of lack of clear video footage.

Watch this video of Wayne Rooney falling to win a penalty against Arsenal earlier this year. This decision is less obvious, was Rooney already falling or did the Arsenal goalkeeper touch his foot and bring him down? Was the ball close enough to be retrieved before going over the goal line? Even on watching the video it is a difficult decision to make.

The video technology in this case has let us down. A side on view of this same incident would have enabled us to better assess the position of the ball and the point at which Rooney begins to fall. We would also have been able to tell when Almunia, the Arsenal goalkeeper makes contact. So here is a decision that even with video replay remains controversial.

I believe that some amount of controversy actually brings excitement and emotion to the game. As a fan of a losing team, what better way to make yourself feel better than to suggest that the team would have won if the referee/player/coach/linesman hadn't cheated. In fact had Henry's goal for France been disallowed, Ireland would not have automatically won as many of the Irish believe (the score was 1-1 on aggregate before the goal went in), and may even have lost in the end anyway. Now just think of the great grudge match when France and Ireland meet again, even in sports other than soccer.

The problem is the blaming. With a referee in charge there are bound to be honest mistakes on occasion. Sometimes there may even be some blatant bias. The players too can make honest mistakes. A player falling over in the penalty box is not always trying to win a penalty, he may be trying to avoid injury.

Video replay technology can give increased accuracy to the decision. A referee is not always in the perfect position to make the most accurate call. Video from different angles can give the official added perspectives to help make his decision more accurate.

Video technology can remove all of this bias and simplify things. However it currently is not 100% accurate and controversial decisions will remain when the perfect camera angle is not available.

As technology progresses and even now with a good camera placement, such as those used in cricket and with the Hawk-Eye system for tennis, even more accurate decisions can be made.

It's time to bring in the video replay for all sports that rely on a referee or umpire to make a decision.

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