Ethics of goal line technology in soccer


As part of my study curriculum I have followed a course on ‘philosophy of technology’. In this course, the role of technology in a social-cultural context is discussed. We had to analyse a product or technological development through the eyes of some of the most influential philosophers of technology.

I decided to choose for a service connected to soccer, one of my passions. Already for years, there is a discussion going on about goal line technology. In my essay, I discuss (the role of) goal line technology on the basis of several quotes from professional players and directors, pertinent to the vision of philosophers like Heidegger, Jaspers, Borgmann, Ihde and Latour. If you are interested, you can contact me and I’ll translate the paper for you (since it originally was written in Dutch) or I can send the Dutch version.

The focus of philosophers on the various aspects of goal-line technology differ. Classical philosophers like Julius Jaspers and Martin Heidegger hold a pretty gloomy vision about the addition of technology when it can also be executed through human leadership. They fear that because of the use of a new technology, the main stakeholder (the referee) will be commanded by technology and will no longer be able to act autonomously. A quote from Michel Platini, president of the Union of European Football Associations strokes with this vision. He states: “I’m afraid that if you start with technology which is used once every 40 years, it could lead to other uses for the technology and I’m afraid that maybe this could lead to video refereeing”. Platini does not see the benefits of the techniques within the beautiful game of football. He believes that the sport does not need these techniques. He is afraid of the so-called ‘video-refereeing’ because it reduces the power of assessment.

Within the technological mediation, the focus is more on the interaction of the technology with the user. An important issue here is whether the technique can help to relieve the user (the referee) without senseless and harmful side effects. From the morality of the technique, the focus is on the message or the (moral) act that the technology exerts on the users. Emmanuel Adebayor described this pretty well. He refers to the fact that the football game needs to be as fair as possible and all teams should be judged equally at all times. In this respect, the technique would be as much as possible decisive. If technology able to decide whether a ball has crossed the line, this decision should be taken autonomously by technology.

However, future (un)intended persuasions have to be taken into account. If the technology will enter the world of professional football, the perception of the supporters will probably change, as well as fraud (in)sensitivity.

It is clear that when goal-line technology would be introduced, it would continue to be controversial in the first years. Personally, I believe that goal-line technology should be introduced as soon as possible. The last decades the stakes have become too high and I believe that it is irresponsible to leave decisions to solely human referees. The technology is available and already successfully introduced and implemented in other sports. I believe that the technology should act as ‘open’ as possible. This means that at all times openness should be given to all stakeholders (referees, players, coaches, crowd and viewers at home). Then it is clearly visible what the boundaries are of the technology. Soccer will become more transparent and the technology will relieve pressure on the human referee(s).