Will football be a better game when referees are replaced by robots?

As technology advances, the football community will have to decide whether the precision of robots balances the loss of the game's human element.

Referee VAR Robot
While robots promise flawless officiating, they risk removing the human elements that many fans cherish. Photo Credit: Qonversations/Runway

Over the years, there have been several technological developments in football, the most popular sport in the world. Technology is now a crucial component of guaranteeing fair play, from goal-line technology to VAR (Video Assistant Referee).

The arguments

The case for robotic referees

Unquestionable accuracy

The absence of human error is the main benefit of robotic referees, some have argued. For watchers, robots are capable of processing enormous volumes of data quickly and reliably while following the rules. This degree of precision guarantees that every call made on the pitch is accurate, which lessens the controversy surrounding dubious calls and the possibility of bias or match-fixing. Futurologist Dr Ian Pearson predicted that by 2030, top-tier football matches may be administered by robot referees and linesmen, improving the accuracy of important calls.

Impartiality and consistency

Secondly, consistent decision-making during a match, season, and among various leagues and competitions would be provided by robotic referees. Inconsistency arises from the fact that human referees may interpret the rules differently. On the other hand, a robot might enforce the rules consistently, giving every team an equal chance to succeed.

Enhanced focus on the game

Players and managers may concentrate more on the game itself rather than arguing calls if officiating was handled by robots. This may lessen the conflicts and altercations that occur on the pitch.

 

The Case Against Robotic Referees

Loss of human element and personality

For many football enthusiasts, the sport is not just a game of skill and tactics; it’s also rich with personality and human drama. They argue that referees are part of this narrative, their decisions and interactions with players add a layer of unpredictability and humanity. A football agent in the United Kingdom, Gilbert Armah, in an interview with Qonversations, disagreed with Dr Pearson’s prediction. For him, replacing referees with robots “could strip the game of this vital aspect, making it feel sterile and mechanical.”

The role of luck and controversy

Luck and controversy are integral to football’s appeal. The spectacle includes debates about a referee’s ruling, apparent injustices in a decision, and the simple unpredictability of human mistakes. Again, removing these factors could reduce the emotional highs and lows that make football appealing to fans.

Resistance and adaptation

Players, managers, and spectators are likely to be strongly opposed to the idea of artificial referees, Gilbert Armah argued. He explained that football is heavily ingrained in tradition, adding that such a drastic change could spark resistance. “During the adaption phase, there may be various teething problems in which the technology is not as seamless as expected, thereby disturbing the game’s flow,” he noted.

The facts

Technological integration in sports

Technological developments have gradually permeated the sports world, offering improved accuracy and impartiality. This trend is best illustrated in football with the development of technologies like automated offside systems, goal-line technology, and video assistant referees (VAR). These developments aim to lessen human error, which is a recurring problem in match officiating.

Accuracy and consistency

With the advancement of technology, there is never been more accuracy and consistency than what robots and sophisticated AI systems can provide. Due to its intelligence, robots can decide based just on facts and preprogrammed algorithms, unlike human arbitrators who can be swayed by factors like weariness, pressure, or even unconscious prejudices. An Artificial Intelligence system, for example, can make decisions faster than a human, who has to take a critical look, by analysing player locations in real time to assess possible infractions or diagnose offside.

Current utilisation of technology

The use of technology to assist referees has already been partially implemented in football. Without a doubt, VAR lessens awful errors—a criticism and a praise in equal measure. In tennis and cricket, the Hawk-Eye system produces dependable, unquestionable results, while goal-line technology guarantees that no contested goals are missed. Given these past examples, it appears possible that football refereeing may become increasingly automated.

 

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