KEIR RADNEDGE in MANCHESTER —- Video assistance for referees could be approved for use worldwide from 2018 if all goes well with the test project being pioneered by the Dutch football federation.

Gijs De Jong, operations director of the KNVB, made his confident prediction at the Soccerex Global Convention in Manchester despite the cautious approach taken by the lawmaking International Football Board in Belfast earlier this year. De Jong was supported in his enthusiasm for the project by Howard Webb, England’s 2010 World Cup referee.

Fears of inflicting an irrevocable change on the free-flowing nature of the game of association football has underscored all talk of technological help for match officials.

Howard Webb: accurate decisions the priority

FIFA president Sepp Blatter was converted to goal-line technology only after being a first-hand witness to Frank Lampard’s ‘phantom goal’ for England against Germany at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and UEFA head Michel Platini remains a staunch opponent of technological aides of any sort.

Platini’s warnings about the introduction of goal-line technology being the “first step on a slippery slope” have been vindicated by the unofficial Dutch experiment which has been running for two years. But De Jong insisted that the spirit of fair play could only be enhanced by ensuring referees could make correct decisions.

Goal-line technology

Even Platini has been grudgingly forced to concede a study within the European federation into whether his personally-favoured ‘five-referees system’ and goal-line technology can be married for use at the Euro 2016 finals in France next June.

De Jong said: “I am sure we will see video assistance in the Premier League in a few years. No doubt. We are very confident about the process. IFAB has said that it needs further consideration and that’s where we are now.”

He explained: “In 2011 in the KNVB we had an internal brainstorming session about how can we support the referees more than we do now. We hear a lot of complaints about refereeing decisions but we do not help them with all the materials available.

“With all the smartphones everyone can see the information within seconds – everyone except the people who need to make the decisions on the pitch.

“Goal-line technology has been in the Premier League since last year and since this season also in Germany, Italy and France. We have it for our cup finals in Holland but we want to move it all forward by the use of video replays. We can improve the fairness of the game.”

Cameras system

Six in-stadium cameras provide the video assistant with 3D vision. He (or she) wears the same headset as the match referee and watches the action on a central main screen in real time. Other screens provide a two-second delay. When the assistant spots a contentious incident he/she can review the time-delayed screen and then call up slow-motion replays if necessary.

A decision can be made in between 11 and 15 seconds which is far less time than delays caused by players mobbing the referee and assistants.

However De Jong explained that the Dutch had decided that because the concept was to prevent clear mistakes on key decisions that involvement should be restricted to penalty decisions including whether a foul was inside or outside the penalty box, red card fouls and goal decisions.

The Dutch experiment thus far had concerned a total of 1,890 decisions of which only 12 – 0.6pc – had been liable to correction by the video assistant.

This is a statistic open to use by both proponents and opponents of video assistance.

Looking ahead to the ‘persuasion campaign’, De Jong said: “IFAB wants to have further considering by their advisory panels in London next month and, since the KNVB wants to be leading on this, whatever happens we will move ahead.

“In the past week we have started a training programme for the video assistants so that, as soon as a decision is taken, we can do it live. We know that testing does not mean implementation but at least the debate can start in earnest.

Performance level

“Common sense suggests it will be used one way or another in the near future. I think, most realistically, that live testing will be decided early next year then, if that starts for two or three years from 2016-17, the final decision will not be earlier than 2018.”

Webb, England’s former FIFA referee, has seen the Dutch system at first hand and believes most referees would welcome any assistance in improving their performance level.

He said: “We are keen to look at anything that helps us make fewer mistakes. Certainly we would like to see this live-trialled otherwise we can never move the argument because whenever there is a big decision in the World Cup or the Premier League or wherever this argument always come up again.

“We can never reach 100pc accuracy but it’s important to do whatever is possible to rule out obvious mistakes which sometimes mean that colleagues of mine don’t get to referee at World Cups and in the other big competitions.

“I’ve had decisions where I would have liked the opportunity to check whether I got it right – maybe a penalty – so we are genuinely in support of it.”

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