Augmenting referees – why didn’t Piero help Uriah?

Last week, Uriah Rennie let Newcastle player James Milner’s goal stand even after his teammate Scott Parker had been flagged off-side and had jumped out of the way of the ball and (too late) West Ham goalkeeper Roy Carroll’s view. West Ham had been two goals up since the first five minutes of the game and possibly onto their first away win of the season. Instead, they left St James Park with only one point for their efforts.

If Uriah Rennie had been helped by software which could analyse the match in real-time and ruled that Scott Parker was interfering with play, would West Ham supporters have been singing on the way home?

Referees are under immense pressure to perform but given the nature of the game they can’t be everywhere and see everything. They make mistakes. Computers don’t. Computers can only work within the boundaries of the parameters given to them. If these parameters were set the same for all matches, a standardisation of referee decision making could occur across the board. Computers are consistent. Humans are not.

Staff could be on hand with software which analyses live footage in real-time choosing the angles they need. A few seconds later they could communicate this to the referee in his earpiece. Use of technology, fans often argue, would slow down the game: ‘Just take a look at the cricket’, they cry. A few seconds is the time it takes for the referee to calm the footballers who crowd him whilst he is still making his decision or for him to walk over to the spot he needs to be in. We might not even notice the difference.

Piero (http://www.redbeemedia.com/piero/index.shtml) is a system developed by Redbee for the BBC and is used regularly by ‘Match of the Day’ in post-match analysis. Last night it was clear to see in the Piero ‘virtual stadium’ that Manchester United were denied a goal when Portsmouth defender Pedro Mendes cleared Nemanja Vidic’s header after it had crossed the line.

Piero augments live footage by calibrating it with a virtual stadium (a ‘The Matrix’ football pitch). With a virtual pitch superimposed on video, the exact coordinates of players and the ball can be calculated during those crucial moments. Piero translates these coordinates to a new point of view and creates new virtual ‘camera angles’ of the action without needing a camera to have taken footage from that area of the pitch. The new viewpoint often shows what happened and more importantly what the referee or linesmen couldn’t possibly have seen from their positions.

In the past managers have been philosophical about losing games with statements such as ‘Things even themselves out during the course of the season’. Perhaps, no more: in Saturday’s The Sun Sam Allardyce said that three points in the Premier league are more important than winning the FA Cup. When the stakes are so high perhaps the FA should be doing more to support referees when the pressure is on.

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