The digital age has seen the introduction and widespread integration of technology into all aspects of human life, changing our every day experiences. Technological advances have either been met with arms and minds wide open, or with great amounts of scepticism, and modern sports are no exception.
Over the past few years, pressure has steadily increased towards associations such as FIFA and UEFA to introduce technology that could improve the accuracy of games, as outrage often sparks over disallowed goals and missed fouls. Who could forget the disallowed Lampard goal, or the infamous ‘Hand of God’ incident?
The 2018 World Cup was the first world cup to use the Video Assistant Referee.
Video Assistant Referee reviews decisions made by the head referee using video footage. (Saudi Gazette)
Whilst advocates rejoiced arguing that it would end refereeing injustice, critics and sceptics fears it would take away from the vital excitement of the sport. Despite technology revolutionising the sport, is it damaging the dynamic and experience of the game?
What do we mean by “Football Experience”?
The universal sport of football has been played and celebrated for more than 2,000 years. The first records trace back to Ancient China (despite most people in the UK arguing differently). The sport was transformed into what we know today in the 19thcentury with the implementation of rules that are still currently used. The football experience has developed over time; however, the passion exhibited by players and supporters has been constant.
The “ideal football experience” differs from person to person, however, there are a few common factors that play into the “ideal experience”. Having spoken to a focus group of football supporters, these are the common themes that arose:
- Being able to clearly follow the match
- Fast paced and dynamic action
- Being surrounded by supports who are engaged with the match
Technology restricting the view
The “football experience” was revolutionised during the age of technology, with matches being televised, changing the way that fans can interact with the sporting experience.
Whilst it is possible to very clearly follow all aspects of a match whilst watching remotely through a screen, this cannot be said for watching live within a stadium.
The addition of VAR has added a new level of confusion, as fans within the stadiums are not able to follow the decisions being reviewed apart from seeing the referee form the shape of a rectangle with his arms. Despite FIFA announcing that they are looking to rectify this issue, the current experience of the game is dramatically altered for spectators as they are being left out of the loop, and in some occasions for quite lengthy periods of time.
How much football is actually played during a match?
The experience of football is heavily reliant on fast paced action. A high volume of stoppage time can damage the dynamics of a “football experience”.
Bookmakers Coral carried out a study into how much time is wasted per game, specifically games between 2006 and 2017. It was discovered that, games averaged 55.6 minutes of live match-play, meaning that 42% of each game is taken up by “dead ball” time, with the ball being out of play or following a foul being committed.
During the 2018 World Cup, in the France v Australia match, the first two goals awarded within the match were penalties, both decided by VAR, and France’s winning goal was given following the clarification by goal-line technology.
Had the match been played without VAR, would the result have been different?
Did this result is a major lull in action?
The VAR reviews, from the first whistle to the awarding of the penalty, took less than two minutes.
If you now consider the time wasted on the ball being out of play, or players being down injured (or faking it), a few extra minutes to ensure a correct verdict does damage the experience. Rather, it’s likely to shorten stoppage time by discouraging diving.
However, this is an example of VAR being used efficiently. It is possible to argue that any impact that VAR possess on the football experience is usually a human-based issue, rather than resultant from technology. Often we see an excessively large amount of time was taken up by the referee reviewing the VAR footage to reach verdicts that most football fans argue were wrong.
Are you even paying attention?
The most significant point at which technology has become somewhat deleterious to the football experience is the way that supporters choose to engage with technology rather than “experience” the game, known as the ‘second screen’ experience.
Rather than being surrounded by supporters that are engaged with the match, it is commonplace to see spectators taking selfies, fretting over their bets, or live tweeting matches rather than fully becoming part of the spectacle. This was the one common factor that each individual in the focus group acknowledged.
The changing nature of the world’s most beloved sport
Football, since it’s establishment, has been altered drastically as millions of people are now able to bear witness to the sport through technology. The addition of goal-line technology and VAR has enhanced the accuracy of the game. However, is VAR really ready for use?
Can you go as far as to argue that technology is damaging the experience?
Or rather, is it fair to state that it has fundamentally changed the match and post match experience?
AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano