Monthly Archives: September 2016

Video refereeing could be a major own goal for football – here’s why

Mathieu Winand, University of Stirling

Ajax’s 5-0 cup victory against fellow Dutch premier division side Willem II on September 21 saw a first in football: the official world debut for a video assistant referee in a competitive game. The Conversation

Sitting in a van with six TV screens inside the stadium, the assistant quickly proved his effectiveness. He recommended by headset to the on-pitch referee that his initial decision to give Willem II midfielder Anouar Kali a yellow card for kicking an Ajax player’s ankle was too lenient, and Kali was dismissed a few seconds later.

While video refereeing is already routinely used to review decisions in sports like rugby and hockey, football has been late to the party. Ahead of the Ajax-Willem II game it was trialled first in a friendly between Italy and France earlier in September, successfully resolving claims in respect of a yellow card and a penalty.

It was then tested again after the Ajax game in Feyenoord’s 4-1 cup victory over FC Oss on September 22, also in the Netherlands. More tests are set to follow in different competition formats in Australia, Brazil, Germany, Portugal and United States and there have also been discussions about introducing it in England and Scotland.

In the system being trialled, the video referee communicates with the referee on the pitch within a few seconds of any incident. As well as advising on penalty and card decisions, they might help clear up cases of mistaken identity or infringements in the lead-up to a goal such as offside or foul play. If the on-pitch referee wishes, they can also review the video footage themselves before making a final decision.

Goal-line technology

Video refereeing is a more intrusive extension of goal-line technology, in which video enables football referees to instantly make an accurate call about whether the ball crossed the goal line. Though again arriving much later than in other sports, goal-line technology recently became a feature of top European leagues like the English Premier, the German Bundesliga and Italy’s Serie A.

It is used at the Champions League and Europe League finals, and was also used at the Brazil World Cup in 2014 and Euro 2016. In Germany’s 2-0 group win over Ukraine at Euro 2016, for example, the technology vindicated the referee’s decision to reject goal celebrations by Ukrainian players after a shot was cleared right off the line by German defender Jérôme Boateng.

International football federation FIFA for a long time resisted introducing goal-line technology, arguing it would threaten the universality and simplicity of football and the pace of the game, as well as removing some of the controversy and debate between fans.

But the federation came under pressure to reconsider following numerous high-profile incidents such as Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal for England against Germany at the 2010 World Cup. The technology was finally given the green light in 2012. FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, has since also spoken positively about it, notwithstanding that the accuracy of the technology is debatable.

The fans’ view

So should football now introduce video refereeing across the board? Not necessarily. Managers and coaches tend to be supportive, but fans share many of FIFA’s concerns. The worry is that this is not being taken into account.

Various surveys have shown a large majority of fans in favour of video technology, yet one major international survey from 2012 was much more equivocal. At least one of the more positive surveys also showed that despite fans’ enthusiasm, they fear it could assume too much importance. “Penalty decisions were the only types of decisions where the majority of fans felt using video refereeing was justified”, it said.

Another earlier survey had 90% of fans fearing that players or managers would use video refereeing to gain a competitive advantage, for example by breaking the flow of the game. Elsewhere, fans have fretted that the technology could remove the enjoyment and passion from debating key decisions, particularly when the stakes are high. Both debating and the atmosphere at games have been demonstrated through research to be important for spectators’ experience and satisfaction in football.

At the University of Stirling we found a similar mixture of support and concerns when we surveyed 270 Scottish fans about goal-line technology in 2014. The majority thought the technology detracted from the atmosphere created by contentious goals and lessened the debate around crucial decisions.

They weren’t in favour of in-stadium viewing of goal-line technology, which is currently considered prohibitively expensive by the Scottish Football Association, or of any other video technology being introduced. The more a fan identified with a team, the more strongly they tended to oppose the introduction of future technologies.

All these surveys remind us that the debate around video technology is far from over in football. Seriously damaging the atmosphere at games is arguably not a price worth paying to try and improve the game. It could potentially jeopardise one of the world’s most lucrative commercial products. For that reason, the governing bodies need to proceed cautiously. It is important that football decisions are as accurate as possible, but not at any cost.

Mathieu Winand, Lecturer in Sport Management, University of Stirling

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Mark Halsey incident suggests football referee system in England needs reforming

Tom Webb, University of Portsmouth

Over the weekend, referee Mark Halsey claimed that he had been told to state that he had not seen an incident which occurred in a game he was officiating between Stoke City and Blackburn Rovers in 2011, in order to ensure that the offending player was punished following the fixture. This allegation was later denied by the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL), the body that manages elite referees in England.

Unsurprisingly, this has caused widespread debate and questions, principally aimed at the Football Association, the Premier League and the PGMOL. Some within football have even claimed that an investigation into practices involving protocol upon receiving referee match reports and deciding whether retrospective action is required should be undertaken.

But the fact that this debate is being aired at all demonstrates that there are deep issues with the structure in which elite referees in England operate. In short, this debate demonstrates the undue pressure that referees are under to get decisions right.

This comes amid statements from the Premier League prior to the start of the season identifying that player behaviour was intolerable towards referees. It was suggested that there should be a “crackdown” on this type of behaviour towards match officials and a potential increase in the number of red cards as a consequence.

Global football

The issue here is that football is a global sport and the Premier League is the most watched league in the world, a product that generates substantial turnover and profit. This season the Premier League begins the latest television rights deal, lasting until 2019, which is estimated to be worth £8.5 billion for domestic and international broadcast rights.

Such figures create a significant pressure on clubs, managers and players to get results and for referees to be correct in the decisions that they make on the pitch. These decisions can affect the course of a match, or potentially the whole season.

So the leadership that elite referees receive and the structures that they operate within are vitally important. Referees must feel supported. The fact that elite referees train remotely, meeting every two weeks as a group, means that they must also be able to self-regulate their training and motivate themselves, something which effective leaders and support structures must also be aware of. This also requires that the leadership and support of referees must be adequate for their needs, which currently it is not.

In England, elite referees are managed by the PGMOL, an organisation which does not exist in other comparable leagues such as those in Spain, Italy or France. The PGMOL exists in England due to the financial input from the Premier League, the FA and the Football League, with the majority of financial backing received from the Premier League. But the existence of such a body only in England is at odds with the FIFA statutes, which demand that referee organisation should be “directly subordinate” to the member association – in England, the FA. The football association in any given country should be the organisation that solely manages, leads and organises referees at all levels of the game.

A structural issue

So the involvement of the Premier League – the fact that they fund elite referees – is problematic in England. Particularly because the Premier League board is formed of the chairpersons of the current clubs in the Premier League. The members of the board all represent their own clubs’ interests and the Premier League is a product which is sold through television and image rights around the world. Obviously, this presents potential conflict of interests in a number of areas.

So an issue such as Mark Halsey’s becomes much more complicated. A former referee claiming that he had been told to deny he had seen an incident on the pitch adversely affects the stakeholders: the clubs in the league. The potential sanctions imposed on important players of those clubs through retrospective action has the potential to lead to financial losses, through reduced prize money for a lower league place or a shorter run in a cup competition.

Due to the organisation, structures and leadership in other comparable European leagues, such as Spain, Italy and France, there is a reduced chance of this type of incident occurring. Conflict of interests between leagues, clubs and referees are less likely. In short, the systems and protocols in other leagues are often simpler because they do not have a tripartite body such as the PGMOL; the referees are under sole control of the football associations.

At the very least, the support networks and protocols that referees function within on a day to day basis in England should be reconsidered. But comparison with other European leagues suggests that it is the structure of refereeing itself which requires further consideration in the Premier League.

Tom Webb, Senior Lecturer in Sports Management and Development, University of Portsmouth

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How maths and driverless cars could spell the end of traffic jams

Lorna Wilson, University of Bath

Being stuck in miles of halted traffic is not a relaxing way to start or finish a summer holiday. And as we crawl along the road, our views blocked by by slow-moving roofboxes and caravans, many of us will fantasise about a future free of traffic jams.

As a mathematician and motorist, I view traffic as a complex system, consisting of many interacting agents including cars, lorries, cyclists and pedestrians. Sometimes these agents interact in a free-flowing way and at other (infuriating) times they simply grind to a halt. All scenarios can be examined – and hopefully improved – using mathematical modelling, a way of describing the world in the language of maths.

Mathematical models tell us for instance that if drivers kept within the variable speed limits sometimes displayed on a motorway, traffic would flow consistently at, say, 50mph. Instead we tend to drive more aggressively, accelerating as soon as the opportunity arises – and being forced to brake moments later. The result is greater fuel consumption and a longer overall journey time. Cooperative driving seems to go against human nature when we get behind the wheel. But could this change if our roads were taken over by driverless cars?

Incorporating driverless cars into mathematical traffic models will prove key to improving traffic flow and assessing the various conditions in which traffic reaches a traffic jam threshold, or “jamming density”. The chances of reaching this point are affected by changes such as road layout, traffic volume and traffic light systems. And crucially, they are affected by whoever is in control of the vehicles.

In mathematical analysis, dense traffic can be treated as a flow and modelled using differential equations which describe the movement of fluids. Queuing models consider individual vehicles on a network of roads and the expected time they spend both in motion and waiting at junctions.

Another type of model consists of a grid in which cars’ positions are updated, according to certain rules, from one grid cell to the next. These rules can be based on their current velocity, acceleration and deceleration due to other vehicles and random events. This random deceleration is included to account for situations caused by something other than other vehicles – a pedestrian crossing the road for example, or a driver distracted by a passenger.

Adaptations to such models can take into account factors such as traffic light synchronisation or road closures, and they will need to be adapted further to take into account the movement of driverless cars.

In theory, autonomous cars will typically drive within the speed limits, have faster reaction times allowing them to drive closer together and will behave less randomly than humans, who tend to overreact in certain situations. On a tactical level, choosing the optimum route, accounting for obstacles and traffic density, driverless cars will behave in a more rational way, as they can communicate with other cars and quickly change route or driving behaviour.

It all adds up

So driverless cars may well make the mathematician’s job easier. Randomness is often introduced into models in order to incorporate unpredictable human behaviour. A system of driverless cars should be simpler to model than the equivalent human-driven traffic because there is less uncertainty. We could predict exactly how individual vehicles respond to events.

In a world with only driverless cars on the roads, computers would have full control of traffic. But for the time being, to avoid traffic jams we need to understand how autonomous and human-driven vehicles will interact together.

Of course, even with the best modelling, cooperative behaviour from driverless cars is not guaranteed. Different manufacturers might compete to come up with the best traffic-controlling software to ensure their cars get from A to B faster than their rivals. And, like the behaviour of individual human drivers, this could negatively affect everyone’s journey time.

But even supposing we managed to implement rules that optimised traffic flow for everyone, we could still get to the point where there are simply too many cars on the road, and jamming density is reached. Yet there is still potential for self-driving cars to help in this scenario.

Are we nearly at a mathematical solution yet?

Some car makers expect that eventually we will stop viewing cars as possessions and instead simply treat them as a transport service. Again, by applying mathematical techniques and modelling, we could optimise how this shared autonomous vehicle service could operate most efficiently, reducing the overall number of cars on the road. So while driverless cars alone might not rid us of traffic jams completely by themselves, an injection of mathematics into future policy could help navigate a smoother journey ahead.

Lorna Wilson, Commercial Research Associate, University of Bath

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.