Thursday 17 March 2011

Three Penalty Incidents: EARs in the Europa League

The following three incidents occurred during the Europa League first leg round 16 match between Sporting Braga and Liverpool on Thursday 10 March 2011. The match finished 1—0.

Incident One (Penalty Awarded)

Two freeze frames show the Referee awarding a penalty to Sporting Braga (red).

Referee Serge Gumienny (Belgium) has a clear view, right between two players, of the foul by Liverpool defender Kyrgiakos (black #16) on Sporting Braga forward Mossoro (red #8)

The Referee has a clear view of the foul inside the penalty area, and immediately and decisively makes the call. At least there is no embarrassing scenario of the AR overruling the Referee's decision (as in this case in Penalty One).

How is the EAR involved? Perhaps by affecting the patrol pathway of the Referee.

Incident Two (Penalty Kick encroachment)

This freeze frame is the resulting penalty kick from the above decision (Incident One).

Encroachment by Sporting Braga players (red) and a goal is scored

This blog has often mentioned the ineffectiveness of EARs. Perhaps the clearest scenario illustrating the ineffectiveness and redundancy of EARs is during penalty kicks. What use EARs?

Also, Referees appear unable to decide which side of the goal is the best position for them. Should they stand on the same side of the goal as the AR or the EAR? Either way, encroachment of players still occurs and Referees have still failed to maximize the presence of EARs during penalty kicks.

Incident Three (Penalty Not Awarded)

Line of sight: EAR—Foul Recognition—R. Is this optimal positioning? Do more match officials see more?

Sporting Braga defender Kaka (red #4) sticks out his left leg and makes contact with Liverpool attacker Cole (black #10)

Liverpool's Joe Cole is fouled in the penalty area, but not one of the match officials (not the EAR, R or even AR) made the call. Even if they had, it may not have been a credible call. The AR can be excused because traditionally and, with good reason, it is not the AR's call to make (since he is on the far side of the incident inside the penalty area). But EARs have been specifically introduced to assist the Referee's decision-making in such incidents (in addition to supposedly having a preventative effect on players who are more likely to foul in such incidents). The EAR has therefore failed in his primary objectives. Furthermore, the EAR has also negatively affected the performance of the Referee because the positioning of the Referee is no longer optimal for incidents in that part of the penalty area. The Referee could not see the incident because, in positioning himself by the D, there is obviously more likelihood of players present in the penalty area obstructing his view.

This specific incident in the penalty area—where no match official has a clear and unobstructed view and/or an optimum angle of view—appears to be increasing with every match that uses EARs (previous examples are seen here in Penalty Two and here where the EAR and R miss a push in the back and here in Incident One where a defender raises his arm to block the ball). This is almost certainly due to the presence of EARs.

Central Thesis

Here my main argument is not the fact that EARs are ineffective and redundant (which, in many incidents, they are ) or that EARs do not help or enhance the game. It is worse than that and much more serious. My main argument is the fact that EARs can have a detrimental effect on the performance of the match Referee and hence can contribute to ruining the game since match officials will be perceived to be making more, instead of less, errors.*

This specific incident which is largely created by the presence of EARs (where the line of sight is: EAR—foul recognition—R) so that no match official is optimally positioned to make the correct call appears to be an important scenario set to occur more frequently.

Are EARs the extra eyes needed in football?

Regular readers will know HKRef's answer! Lol.

* Does the phrase "Too many cooks spoil the broth" mean anything to UEFA, FIFA and IFAB?


  1. Check out the study done by GMU engineering students. Their simulation shows that Blindspots and Distance-to-the-Event are the two main factors. Additional referees do not solve Blindspots, and only help marginally with distance.

    See more details:

  2. Thank you GMUE. I enjoyed reading this interesting student project. It must have been fun to do and I understand where the researchers are coming from, using their skills in simulating decision-support systems.

    We must remember that this research is only a model and ideally the conclusions should be borne out with experimentation. For example, UEFA's use of EARs is not based on theoretical models but actual implementation and real data. And I sincerely hope that UEFA will eventually be transparent and provide the actual data from their "experiment" using EARs. For all intents and purposes, with this GMUE study it would be a) financially difficult and b) practically dangerous to implement two of the three alternative models. These being using a) an overhead camera and b) a Segway, respectively.

    However, what would be interesting is a proper comparison of existing refereeing systems (i.e. 4 and 6 match officials) with GMUE's third alternative of 5 match officials (i.e. using 2 main referees plus 2 ARs and 1 Fourth Official). You mention, based on your theoretical model, that additional referees (I think you mean 2 main referees) do not solve blindspots and only help marginally with distance. Perhaps a real experiment to test this is needed? Now that would be an interesting experiment!

    Thanks again for the link. BTW, which journal are the researchers planning to publish this study?