Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Physically Impossible?

Why the ref cannot get offside decisions right

It is just as football fans always suspected. Referees' inadequate eyesight means they can never be sure of getting offside decisions right.

But it may not be the officials' incompetence that is to blame, despite their reputation for needing glasses or a white stick. A soccer-loving GP argues that the rule which has ruled out so many goals should be scrapped because human eyes are just not up to the job of collating all the information needed for split-second verdicts.

Francisco Belda Maruenda, a fan of Real Madrid and his local teams, says applying the offside rule correctly "is beyond the capacity of the human eye, which may explain why so many offside decisions are controversial". In an article in the British Medical Journal today, he suggests the use of freeze-frame television.

But he told the Guardian: "It is obvious that television can be just used in the case of international matches or in Premier League matches but not in the case of regional or young leagues. That is why, as the offside rule cannot be applied scientifically, it should be removed." ...

See the whole article here, courtesy of Guardian.

Kicking Back Comments: I don't buy this on two levels. I don't doubt the science that eyes can not be four places at once, but I would opine they do not need to. (You can access the full article from the BMJ here (subscription required).) First of all, you can always listen to when the ball is struck to determine when you will judge the offside. This can usually be done even at large stadiums. There are times however that this is not possible due to crowd noise, or a subtle touch.

Assuming however that you can not hear what is going on, what is an AR to do in the case of having multiple things to look at?

Well, assuming the entire play is not in the field of view of the AR, and keep in mind, scientifically, the field of view for a human is pretty large (The approximate field of view of a human eye is 95° out, 75° down, 60° in, 60° up. About 12–15° temporal and 1.5° below the horizontal is the optic nerve or blind spot which is roughly 7.5° high and 5.5° wide.[source]), the AR must take "snapshots in time" and infer if a player is offside or not based on ball and player movement. All of this in a second or two. In short, the AR has to put several pictures together to make the call.


No, a reasonable inference based on actual information the AR observes.

It's not easy, and takes lots and lots of practice, but in the case where you can not see everything in one "look", this is what an AR must do to get the call right. This is the magic of the highest level ARs who can do this and get it right.

This may make some folks uncomfortable, especially Mr. Maruenda I would imagine, but guess what, referees don't actually see everything and still make correct calls based on the other (than visual) information given. It is what makes a good referee, a great referee. This is a part of The Game folks, and frankly it is a wonderful thing that a referee has the freedom in the LOTG to "fill gaps" with reasonable inferences to manage a match.

Second place this goes off the rails is the suggestion that Law 11 should be "removed" because it " ... can not be applied scientifically (at all levels)." To which I say nonsense.

Ignoring the approximate 164 years of history with the offside law, to suggest it should not be enforced because the application lacks "scientific basis" (that's really the wrong term as it does have a scientific basis ... a better word may be "precision") I say is nonsense too.

The Game is not a mathematical equation that has a finite outcome, it is a series of interactions and subsequent reactions that unfold before everyone eyes. The Game is art, not science.

That to me is why, it is truly The Beautiful Game.

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