Wednesday 16 November 2011

A Seriously Sound Idea

I applaud an interesting and insightful article (see below) suggesting that better sound monitoring around the football pitch, especially during high-profile matches, would have a preventative effect on poor player behaviour.

Everyone knows that UEFA President Michel Platini and FIFA President Sepp Blatter are against match officials using video technology and goal-line technology as an aid to their decision making. The presidents are so against it that they even brought in the experiment of using additional assistant referees (or as I call them extra assistant referees or EARs) in September 2009 which they claimed would have a preventative effect on player behaviour, such as players being less likely to hold opponents and simulate fouls especially in the penalty area. Most people know that EARs do not have a significant preventative effect on player behaviour (there are plenty of examples on this blog) and that the experiment is merely a useful exercise in delaying the use of goal-line technology at the higher levels of the game. Furthermore, continued observations have revealed that EARs actually have a detrimental effect on the performance of the match Referee.

Therefore, the rather excellent idea of wiring footballers for sound (by using strategically-placed microphones around the field of play especially near the penalty and technical areas and perhaps even on match officials) appears in principle to be much more effective than any number of EARs present or cards awarded in the attempt to help deal with unsporting behaviour and gamesmanship by players, substitutes and coaches. Fines could also be meted out, and very quickly players and coaches will learn that it is in their interests to "play ball", as it were.

If they knew more people were listening, perhaps potty-mouthed, ill-tempered and abusive players would be more likely to hold their tongues.

This is not about referees, but instead is something much bigger and more important. This is about creating transparency, encouraging fair play, improving player behaviour, cleaning up attitudes, and educating everyone who has an interest in the beautiful game. After all, FIFA does apparently endorse: "My Game is Fair Play".

What an excellent idea! This use of sound monitoring would only be applicable at the highest levels where millions of people watch and listen to televised matches, and consequently the impact from the trickle-down effect to grassroots would be substantial, significant and simultaneous. It is a seriously sound idea.

And just imagine what creative excuses Monsieurs Platini and Blatter will come up with if this idea of sound monitoring around the football pitch is seriously pushed onto the agenda?


Wiring footballers for sound may help keep mouths shut (by Associated Press)
Authorities slow to adopt methods to record referees' comments or check the on-pitch tirades, abuse and bad language of players
Nov 13, 2011

In the era of ubiquitous CCTV cameras, of eye-in-the-sky satellites that spy on the earth and telescopes that peer ever-deeper into the cosmos, it seems astounding that we can't hear much of what footballers players say to each other on a pitch. Perhaps it is time for some "Big Brother" surveillance in football, too.

More well-placed microphones, why not even broadcasting sound from the shirt lapels of referee Chris Foy and his assistants, perhaps might have helped determine whether captain John Terry racially abused Anton Ferdinand in Chelsea's ill-tempered 1-0 loss at Queens Park Rangers on October 23. Even if on-pitch recordings could not capture every word, maybe players would think twice before directing tirades at each other and at officials if football was more wired for sound, like rugby and other sports.

The idea of broadcasting match officials' on-field words to players, as rugby does, is not on football's agenda. The sport's lawmakers last looked at this in 2004. The minutes of their meeting show they were happy for officials to talk to each other by radio during a match but decided that "such a system ... must not be used for broadcasting purposes".

No surprise there. Fifa is hardly a trailblazer in the use of technology. Its progress is excruciatingly slow on picking which system football will use to determine when the ball crosses the goalline. And Thierry Henry of France will likely be an old man before football's ruling body accepts video replays that could have punished his handball that broke Irish hearts in 2009 during World Cup play-offs.

Still, that shouldn't stop us from exercising our imagination.

If players wore microphones, we might all have heard the "certain word" that Manchester United's Patrice Evra accused Liverpool's Luis Suarez of racially abusing him when the clubs met on October 15. That was a month ago, which is a long time for such an ugly allegation to hang unresolved over the Premier League. Striker Suarez denied it. United stuck by Evra. Which of them is telling the truth must wish there was audio to prove it.

But wiring up all 22 players would be overly intrusive, technically tough and of questionable use, at least for broadcast purposes. It would be smarter to broadcast at least some of what referees hear and say. That was tried with astounding effect in the 1980s, when David Elleray wore a microphone for a Millwall-Arsenal game. It recorded Gunner Tony Adams squealing at Elleray and calling him a cheat when he disallowed an Arsenal goal.

In Australia, officials looked into repeating something along those lines this season. They felt that broadcasting referees' comments to players might help spectators Down Under, where football isn't the No1 sport, better understand what's happening and improve on-field discipline. Fifa said "No" to the Australian federation's initial feelers. However, "there's still work being done to possibly bring it in, as a trial, not as a league-wide standard", A-League spokesman Mark Jensen said.

"The possibility with using microphones for referees and having that audio available is that players might realise they are being recorded and tone it down for their images' sake," Jensen said. "If you see Wayne Rooney ... screaming offences at a referee for a decision, kids watch that and pick up on that and they think it's OK. So putting things in place to possibly curb that is only good for future generations."

In the Canadian Football League, which plays gridiron football, the head coaches and quarterbacks of the Toronto Argonauts and Winnipeg Blue Bombers agreed to wear live microphones for broadcaster TSN for a pre-season game in June. TSN built in a 10-second delay so it could interrupt the audio if the language got salty.

"As it turns out, we rarely used that," said Paul Graham, TSN's vice-president and executive producer of live events. "You could hear the coaches talking to the players on the sidelines and conferencing in with their assistant coaches, and you could hear the quarterbacks talking to their teammates in the huddle and then making their calls."

"From a viewer perspective, it was certainly entertaining," he said. "From a league perspective, worth the experiment, but I would be lying if I said they weren't nervous throughout the whole ordeal."

So, if football wanted, something could be done.

If they knew more people were listening, perhaps potty-mouthed, ill-tempered and abusive players would be more likely to hold their tongues.

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