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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.

Stuart is a writer, journalist, blogger and social commentator based in Sydney, Australia. His work can also be found on theRoar.com.au, zerotackle.com.au, openforum.com and on his website, stuartthomas.com.au. You can connect with him on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

FFA launches online football resource for schools

Football Federation Australia have announced it has released a new interactive online football resource for primary school students.

Titled the ‘Schools Football Workbook’, the resource gives children and their teachers the opportunity to learn and become fans of the world game.

The online resource covers four separate areas:

Active: Focuses on physical literacy, with students also learning the value of good nutritional habits and eating practices.

Experience: Based off FFA’s MiniRoos program, students can complete footballs skills and challenges via video tutorials.

Transition: This section helps individuals identify pathways to access their local football club and link-up with member federations.

Fans: Students can participate in interactive projects with the aim of learning about the A-League, W-League, Socceroos and Matildas.

Speaking about the workbook, FFA CEO James Johnson claims he is pleased with what has been produced.

“This is an important piece of work to bring football to the classroom via an interactive, digital resource that will prove invaluable to primary schools as they work through the COVID-19 situation. It will enable boys and girls to remain connected with football, while staying active, healthy and happy,” Johnson said in a statement on Monday.

“We have taken a whole of game approach in the development of the workbook and I’d like to acknowledge the great contribution the Hyundai A-League and Westfield W-League clubs and the member federations make in the schools’ space, and the effort they’ve put into this project alongside FFA.

“This workbook will complement the work our stakeholders undertake with schools and will enhance football’s future delivery model.

“We may be moving to a relaxation of social isolation measures over the coming weeks, but we believe this workbook will be of great benefit to schools, teachers and students long after the coronavirus pandemic is over.”

Sport Australia General Deputy Manager of Participation James Ceely praised football’s governing body for the initative they have shown.

“It’s great to see Football Federation Australia embedding physical literacy into resources for schools,” he said.

“Through these fun and engaging football activities, children can develop the skills, behaviours and attitudes they need to be physically active for life.”

Schools and teachers can register and download the workbook here.

Video Assistant Referee Training Portal launched by OZ Sports

OZ Sports have created an Online Training Portal designed to revolutionise the adoption of VAR, despite being in the Covid-19 crisis.

The Portal will serve as a valuable resource for referees and addresses the complexities and costs of existing VAR approaches, as leagues continue to become accustomed with it. OZ Sports are aiming to deliver high-quality referee training and match readiness of existing referees – even though we aren’t in normal circumstances.

The OZ VAR solution has recently been one of the first in the world to be inspected under FIFA’s Quality Programme for VAR Technology. This aims to verify the quality of VAR technologies in areas such as synchronicity, latency and video quality to ensure the highest standards are met.

“By transforming the key challenge of referee training, we are able to simplify the adoption of VAR by leagues around the world,” CEO of OZ Sports, Gudjon Gudjonsson said.

“With our VAR Online Training Portal, referees can train anytime, even from their homes, in a rich interactive environment, making the process simple, efficient and effective, even under the current lockdown.”

The incorporation of OZ’s VAR Online Training Portal does bring new opportunities for off-field practical training to VARs via remote digital training. It reduces the substantial one-off costs and difficulties of certifying VAR officials at specific training areas through resourcing, staffing and time constraints.

The VAR Online Training Portal sits alongside the OZ VAR solution offering which revolutionises the economics of VAR implementation, as VAR has mainly just been used within the top leagues. The OZ Sports VAR solution is a pay-as-you-go service, removing the barriers to adoption at all levels of football by harnessing technology and changing the economics of implementation by reducing costs and requirement of capital outlay.

“The football world has taken crucial steps to modernise its league infrastructures,” Gudjonsson said.

“VAR started as something only for the big leagues, but with the VAR module of the OZ Connected Stadium, a high-quality solution is now a reality for all leagues.

“By harnessing the latest technology including AI and modern network infrastructures, we can remove the need for complex and overly expensive solutions.

“The OZ Connected Stadium is a fundamental change to the way the sector approaches sports infrastructure.”

Optus Sport to broadcast K League to Australian viewers

Optus Sport has announced they have acquired the broadcast rights in Australia to show South Korea’s K League in 2020.

The deal follows on from their opening foray into the Asian football market, after the telco secured the domestic J.League rights in February.

The premier football competition in South Korea gets underway tonight, with Suwon Samsung Bluewings taking on reigning champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors at 8pm (AEST).

Socceroos pair Adam Taggart and Terry Antonis will feature in the contest for the Bluewings.

Optus Sport will be airing two matches every round, live and on demand.

“I know I’m not the only one who’s been staring longingly out the window waiting for live sport to return, so to bring the K League to viewers in such a friendly time zone from this weekend is something we’re really excited about,” said Richard Bayliss, Optus director of sport.

“In light of COVID-19, we have faith in South Korea’s capability to start the K League while respecting societal requirements to keep players and the wider community safe.”

Other Australians playing in the league include Brandon O’Neill (Pohang Steelers), Jason Davidson (Ulsan Hyundai) and Rashid Mahazi (Incheon United).

Despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Optus Sport reported their active subscription base has only decreased by 0.5% from the start of March to the end of April.

The telco currently has 820,000 activated subscriptions.

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