After decades of resistance, football's rule-making body is set to embrace technological assistance for match officials.
A football revolution is on the way with video assistance proposed to help support referees in big match decisions – but not until towards the second half of 2018 at the earliest.
A “strong recommendation” will be put before the annual meeting of the law-making International Football Association Board in Cardiff in early March. The general concept was approved at a business meeting in London between representatives of the four British home associations and FIFA.
Given the appearance of unanimity on the issue it appears highly unlikely that any further delay will be raised to obstruct progress on the a thorny issue which has been kicking around ever since England’s disputed second goal in the 1966 World Cup Final.
The conservativism of IFAB, which has served football well, meant that even goal-line technology was adopted internationally only three years ago.
Its success has prompted pressure for further video help for referees with the Dutch federation leading the way in unoffical experimentation. Last spring IFAB delayed a decision on official trials pending further discussion which has now been undertaken.
Jonathan Ford, chief executive of the Football Association of Wales, chaired what was formally described as an IFAB business meeting also involving Stewart Regan (Scottish FA), Patrick Nelson (Irish FA), Martin Glenn (chief executive of the Football Association) and Markus Kattner (acting FIFA secretary-general), advised by former FIFA referee David Elleray, a member of the technical sub-committee.
All were agreed that different formats were necessary for experimentation along with agreed parameters on which decisions could be affected – almost certainly goals, red cards, penalties and identification issues.
These issues will be resolved ahead of the annual meeting where a minimum six votes out of eight can signal the go-ahead for trials in different competitions around the world.
Ford said: “Full and extensive experimentation is needed so we can make a lasting decision once and for all. We are doing this specifically to assist referees; we have to be careful so that the referee’s power of autonomy is not affected.
“We also need to protect the fluidity of the game. We don’t want to do what other sports do and have a two or three-minute break waiting for a decision.”
One of the key issues to be decided is whether a video check can be made only at a break in play or during an active phase of play. Also open for experiment is whether the referee is supported by a video assistant at pitch-side or up in the stand.
Ford added: “This a strong recommendation but, since this is a fundamental decision, it is appropriate that we give the agm the opportunity to have a further discussion.
“There are still some sceptics and the only way we can have a full debate is with more information available to us. We can’t make such a fundmental decision without experimentation. It’s possible we could even end up saying we don’t want this for the game.”
If the annual meeting approves then worldwide experimentation – and various federations and leagues are champing at the bit to become involved – would begin later this year.
The need to consider extensive data from at least two seasons means the earliest possible date for an IFAB ‘Yes’ would be the spring of 2018. Since IFAB decisions are generally enacted in July video assistance will not be applicable at the World Cup finals in Russia.
Indeed, given the care and conservatism of IFAB, the summer of 2019 is more likely.
Several European federations have already indicated a readiness to experiment. England’s Football Association might be likely to propose next season’s FA Cup.
Glenn said: “We are big supporters of the use of technology and we’ll be part of it if it’s appropriate. It’s all about how we embrace technology to make better decisions. It’s all about balancing technology with an attractive consumer product.”