A-League invests A$150,000 in controversial Hawkeye technology

After being one of the first leagues in world football to adopt the VAR system, the A-League has now invested A$150,000 in the Hawkeye technology being used in the English Premier League.

In Australia, the two most recent top flight domestic grand finals have featured VAR errors. Both clearly impacted the contest. Its interference has also continued to heighten the mood of distrust around the system and bred calls for a simplification of its processes or its removal all together.

The Premier League has been using the new technology this season, much to the chagrin of many fans and expert commentators alike. Aside from decisions on foul play, it also uses a computerised 3D line, determining offsides based not only on centimetres and metres, but also on the tiniest of margins.

At times the width of a players arm can be the difference between a play on decision or an infringement being called. Such has been the case in the richest league in the world this season, with a host of decisions made after a referral to the VAR that have infuriated fans and drawn criticism from some of the most respected pundits.

Despite Australian football’s constant financial challenges, the A-League powers at be have chosen to invest in the system. It hopes to avoid the errors that have plagued recent grand finals.

In 2017/18, Melbourne Victory were awarded a match winning goal in the first half against the Newcastle Jets. There was a clear offside in the play yet a faulty monitor and a required reboot saw the officials in the booth unable to view the vision that would have made things right for the unlucky Jets.

It was a bitter pill to swallow for Newcastle, yet luckily the error that occurred in the following seasons’ grand final was less disastrous. Sydney FC had a goal disallowed unfairly, however, after 120 minutes of grinding and stubborn action, did manage to prevail over Perth Glory on penalties.

Whilst the official word coming from the league will be that the investment they have made in the Hawkeye technology will remove such errors and ensure that we do not see a repeat of the embarrassing disasters of the past two seasons, many fans in England would disagree.

After just a month of the Premier League season, former whistle blower Mike Riley and Head of Referees, admitted that VAR had already been responsible for four major errors. Whilst three involved penalty decisions, he also made it clear that Newcastle United had been awarded a goal despite the technology confirming an offside player.

Liverpool’s Egyptian striker Mohamed Salah summed up much of the existing fan sentiment around the obviously flawed technology and the unrealistic ambitions of administrators to eliminate all errors from officialdom.

“I don’t like it … that’s my answer, always. I don’t like it,” Salah claimed in an interview with CNN. “I love football how it is.

Whilst English fans are grappling with VAR’s application to penalties, foul play and the new interpretations around handball incidents, Australian fans are already well versed in the frustrations caused in those areas.

The considerable financial investment made by Australia’s domestic governing body will now add the most finicky level of analysis to offside decisions. A three dimensional dotted red line joining an attacker’s shoulder with his exact position on the pitch is compared with a blue line indicating the precise placement of the defender.

Those two points then become extended lines draw horizontally across the pitch and the player in the highest or most advanced position is judged to be the last man; potentially on offside attacker or a defender playing a goal scorer onside.

The graphics look somewhat absurdly imprecise when used and many decisions appear within a reasonable margin of effort. One that should exist in all predictive technology.

However, Australian football claims to have invested in the future, in order to protect fans and the integrity of the game by ensuring there is a categorical decision made each and every time on the technological evidence available.

It is considerable money spent on something that remains unconvincing. Many would argue that they were happy with the game the way it was, well before we had even heard of the acronym VAR.

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DFL and AWS introduce two new Match Facts to Bundesliga coverage

Bundesliga analysis

The Deutsche Fußball Liga (DFL) and Amazon Web Services (AWS) have announced the addition of two new Bundesliga Match Facts powered by AWS that will premiere as graphics during broadcasts and in the official Bundesliga app during the 2021-2022 season.

The two new Match Facts – Shot Efficiency and Passing Profile – will bring the total number of advanced statistics to eight, with each of them aiming to give fans deeper insights into the action on the pitch.

The first of the new advanced stats – Shot Efficiency – compares the number of goals that a player or team has scored with how many goals the player or team should have scored based on the quality of their chances.

The second – Passing Profile – provides deeper insights into the pass quality of a player or an entire team. Both of the stats are generated by gathering and analysing the match feeds from live games in real time as they are streamed into AWS.

Both new stats made their debut during Matchday 4 on the clash between German Champion FC Bayern München and the second-placed team of the previous season RB Leipzig.

The two new Match Facts will better showcase the action on the field – giving fans, coaches, players, and commentators visual support for analysing the decision-making of players and teams.

Andreas Heyden, Executive Vice President of Digital Innovations for DFL Group, was excited to further innovate the matchday experience for viewers based both domestically and internationally.

“Bundesliga Match Facts powered by AWS allows us to give fans more insight into the game of football, broadcasters more interesting stories to tell and coaches and teams, more data to excel at their game,” he said.

“Last year, the reception for Bundesliga Match Facts around the world was very positive, and we expect through ML and AI to continue to innovate on these analytics to make them even better.

“These two new stats give fans a view into player efficiency that hasn’t been achieved before, and we are just at the beginning of our relationship with AWS. I’m excited to see how technology will continue to evolve the fan experience and the game.”

Jamie Harnwell driving the game forward in Western Australia

Jamie Harnwell is Perth Glory’s record appearance holder, with 256 of them across three decades. Now Chief Football Officer for Football West, he spoke to Soccerscene about the changes from the NSL to the A-League, the challenges of running a football federation, and his favourite footballing moments throughout his career.

So firstly, what’s the biggest challenges facing Football West at the moment?

Harnwell: I think it’s interesting. Football West is in a really good position, being very fortunate with COVID over here and able to get out and play. The challenges are more for our clubs I suppose, and then Football West supporting them. Facilities are always a challenge for every sport, but certainly for football. We need to make sure there are enough grounds and space for people to play, but also aspects like lighting, adequate change rooms, and those sorts of things are suitable for clubs. We have a number of them almost putting up the closed sign because they have too many players and not enough space for them to play.

The other challenge for Football West and the clubs is the increase in governance requirements. We are basically a volunteer sport in many ways. And the increasing legalities and issues across that for volunteers to deal with can be difficult. So it’s time that we at Football West need to be able to support our clubs, make sure they’re adhering to good practice, and doing the right things so that they can continue to grow.

How has professional football in Australia improved since you first debuted with Perth Glory in the late 90s?

Harnwell: I think it’s actually professional football now. You know when I first started playing, I think there was ourselves and maybe Carlton who were actual full-time professional clubs. The rest were part-time as people were still working during the day, going to training at night, and trying to juggle the two. So certainly the transition into the A-League and full-time professionalism for all clubs has been huge, and just the continued increased coverage and media around the game has made us much more accessible. It’s easier to see and has a much better chance of building that supporter base across the game here in Australia.

What areas do you think the game can continue to improve on going forward into the future?

Harnwell: There’s always talent development and making sure that we stay on pace with best practices and what’s happening in other parts of the world. We are a smaller nation in the grand scheme of things in football, so we need to be smart about how we approach those sorts of things and make sure we get bang for our buck for everything that we do. The other thing is we need to try and increase the commercialism of the game and make sure that we continue to get funds into the game that can assist in the youth development that can help in costs for clubs and all those types of things. So that’s the way I know Football Australia is working hard on it. They’re starting to bring more and more partners into the game. But if you look at the mega machines like AFL, then we probably still have some way to go in that.

How can football win across young athletes into joining the sport over others?

I think we’re really lucky as a game. I can’t speak for other states, I suppose – but the numbers here at Football West in Western Australia just continue to grow year in year out. We are a very attractive game for parents to pick for young boys and girls. It’s a very easy game to choose and very easy to play and train. So we’re certainly well-positioned in that respect – making sure that our clubs provide positive environments that they enjoy what they do. There isn’t the overarching focus on just winning games, but more a longer-term development based approach that will make sure talented young players will stay in football rather than going across to other codes.

On a personal level, what is your most memorable footballing memory?

Harnwell: There’s probably a few, I suppose for myself as a player – it would have been the first NSL Championship that we won. We’d had a couple of cracks at it before and sort of fell away in the Grand Final. So that first win in 2003 was huge, and really got the monkey off our back, and managing to score in that game with the massive crowd was fantastic. But I’m also a Manchester United fan, so the treble was pretty good as well. So I don’t know which one ranks better for me!

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