Zurich, May 15
Decades after the invention of spy satellites capable of detecting a golf ball from outer space, referees may soon be equipped with technology that will enable them to tell if a football has crossed the goal-line.
After years of debate which has moved at a glacial pace, world football chiefs are close to sanctioning goal-line technology after a string of high-profile refereeing controversies.
FIFA’s rules body -- the International Football Association Board (IFAB) -- is expected to give the thumbs up to goal-line technology at a meeting in Kiev in July following the European Championships.
IFAB is currently assessing two different systems bidding to be approved as authorised suppliers of goal-line technology, one from British company Hawk-Eye and the other from German-Danish firm GoalRef.
Both companys’ systems are undergoing rigorous testing ahead of the IFAB meeting, and Hawk-Eye will be used in a live match situation on Wednesday when Eastleigh and AFC Totton face each other in the Hampshire Senior Cup final.
Former English referee Neale Barry, a member of the IFAB sub-committee assessing the relative merits of the systems, believes the use of goal-line technology is inevitable.
Barry attended testing at Southampton’s St Mary’s stadium, which will host Wednesday’s match, and is keen for referees to be given the support of technology.
"The international board first started looking at the technology in 2005," Barry told reporters. "The technology has moved on greatly since then when you look at Hawk-Eye and the quality of their cameras.
"I think really there has been the attitude that we should really try to help the referees for this very, very factual decision.
"The ball is either over the line or it isn’t. It is not a matter of opinion - it is a matter of fact.
"I think what we’re trying to say is ‘let’s find a technology that works, that actually gives the referee that vital information’, because in reality the most important decision in a game is whether a goal has been scored or not.
"We’re trying to give the referee as much as help as we can, assuming the technology works and we can get it licensed, but we’re very, very positive."
Hawk-Eye, which reportedly will cost around 250,000 pounds (403,000 dollars) per stadium, deploys six cameras at each end of the stadium to calculate a three-dimensional position of the ball.
GoalRef, the other technology under consideration, uses a chip placed in the centre of a football which will be picked up by sensors installed in the goalmouth.
With each system, the referee will be alerted by a signal transmitted to a wristwatch within one second of any goalmouth incident whether the ball has crossed the line.
Both systems could be available later this year if they meet with IFAB approval in July.
Steve Carter, the managing director of Hawk-Eye, is adamant that his company’s technology will make refereeing controversies such as Geoff Hurst’s 1966 World Cup final goal a thing of the past.
"The testing process has been exceptionally rigorous and whichever system is approved, every football fan can sleep easy at night knowing they are accurate," said Carter.
"At the moment all of our concentration and energy is on doing as well as we can, making the technology as good as possible and making sure that we get excellent results from phase two."
Meanwhile Barry is sceptical of the argument that any introduction of goal-line technology will be the thin end of the wedge, leading to video replays being used to rule on issues of offside or foul play.
"I’ve been on IFAB for seven years and it is a very, very conservative organisation," Barry said.
"I’d be astonished if we go to other forms of technology. In my personal opinion, I don’t think we will ever get to that point."