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Science

European companies offer up possible goal-line technologies

The 2010 World Cup has been plagued with controversial rulings. Fans and players are outraged but British and German companies are ready to make bad calls on the goal-line obsolete, if only FIFA would let them.

A cross-section of an Adidas ball showing the goal-line technology sensor

Adidas has developed a ball that can tell the official when a goal is good

After controversial decisions in high-stakes FIFA World Cup 2010 matches, fans and players alike have renewed calls for the use of goal-line technology in professional soccer matches.

On Monday, officials failed to notice that Argentina's Carlos Tevez had clearly been offside when he scored the opening goal. The previous day, the referee and his assistants ruled that English player Frank Lampard's shot would not count after it clearly bounced off the crossbar into the goal.

Football fans and media were stunned as the referees were powerless to do anything and FIFA apologized for the bad calls but would not overturn them.

"My reaction was the same as every England fan and a large percentage of the German fans, which is that that decision has undermined the credibility of that match," said Paul Hawkins, the founder and president of Hawk-Eye Innovations in the United Kingdom.

His company is one of two major competitors for up-and-coming technological solutions to what are called "goal-line" decisions in soccer - that is, whether or not a shot crossed the line and should count as a goal.

German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer watches the ball clearly behind his line

England's shot was clearly over the line against Germany

Hawk-Eye already has had a great deal of success in professional cricket, tennis and even snooker. It works through a system of high-speed cameras that follow the ball while in flight. Then, by triangulating those images via computer, frame-by-frame at very high speed, the system can determine whether or not the ball was in.

Presumably, just as is the case now in tennis, coaches, players and or referees would be able to challenge a call and consult a Hawk-Eye monitor to appeal a decision.

Chip-in-a-ball

Another alternative under development over the last decade has been one called the Goal Line Technology system, also known as Chip-in-a-ball, or the Adidas Intelligent Ball. This system was first developed in Germany in a collaborative effort between Adidas and Cairos Technologies.

The German solution works fairly differently than Hawk-Eye's camera setup. With this approach, a small chip is suspended inside the ball. It is braced against the outside leather through a series of supports to keep it in place, no matter how hard the ball is kicked. In addition to modifications to the ball itself, there needs to be modifications to the field as well. Prior to the game, two small devices, each a magnetic field, would be placed underneath the penalty box line and the goal.

The ball's sensors are constantly taking readings of these magnetic fields, and are constantly transmitting that reading to a computer, which then determines whether or not the ball in fact crossed the goal line. In a small fraction of a second, the computer then transmits the single word "GOAL" to a wristwatch display worn by the referee, if it counted.

Oliver Braun, Cairos' marketing director told Deutsche Welle that his company worked very hard and precisely following the four guidelines that the International Football Association Board and FIFA outlined in its 2007 meeting:

The technology should apply only to goal-line technology, the system must be 100% accurate, the indication of whether or not the ball has crossed the line must be instantaneous between the system and the referee, and the signal is communicated only to the match officials.

"We were very surprised, we put in some millions of euros into the technology," Braun added. "They told us, it would be great to have something like that and if you can meet the requirements we will use it - we're the only company in the world that has met their requirements."

He also said that though tests conducted at the FIFA Under-17 tournament in Peru in 2005 were unsuccessful, Cairos did manage to prove the system worked at the FIFA World Cup Club Championship in Japan two years later.

Hawk-Eye showing a tennis ball hitting the line at the Wimbledon Championships

Hawk-Eye was introduced to help umpires at the Wimbledon tennis Championships in 2007

Looking Forward

Earlier, FIFA President Sepp Blatter famously explained that soccer was a game with a "human face" and as such shouldn't need to rely on technology for officiating and instead should be "played, administered and controlled by human beings."

However, after the recent blunders, Blatter has gone back on his previous statement.

"It is obvious that after the experiences so far at this World Cup it would be nonsense not to re-open the file on goal-line technology," he said in a media briefing in South Africa on Tuesday. He said that FIFA would take up the issue at its next meeting in Wales in July, after the completion of the World Cup.

Hawk-Eye Technologies Founder Paul Hawkins said that he's confident that his company's product would improve goal-line calls, particularly after its acceptance in other professional sports.

"I think what the governing body should do would be to decide if they want technology to assist after thinking about it from a purely moral perspective. Then they can test any system which is willing to put its hat into the ring. They don't need to play any greater role than that."

After all, he points out, just as is the case in tennis, different products may be more or less appropriate at various levels of play, or in different stadiums.

Author: Cyrus Farivar

Editor: Mark Mattox

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