New measuring method for handball: chip in the ball

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Written By Maya Cantina

The use of technical aids should make football fairer. Can that work? The prize: The game becomes more and more complicated.

Extended arm: Lois Openda in a duel for the ball with Denis Vavro

Stretched arm: Lois Openda in a duel for the ball with Denis Vavro at the European Championship match between Belgium and Slovakia Photo: Arne Dedert/dpa

BERLIN taz | Football is a simple sport. It doesn’t take much more than a ball, two goals and a few simple rules. Completely. That’s why football is so popular. This claim is made again and again, even though modern professional football has long since left this romantic idea behind.

On Monday evening it was clear where the game was going with the introduction of video referees, the Video Assistant Referee (VAR). Due to the intervention of the on-screen referees present at this European Championship in Leipzig, Belgium’s alleged 1-1 draw against Slovakia was deemed irregular. Belgian Lois Openda touched the ball with his hand in the 86th minute, which Romelu Lukaku shot into the goal shortly afterwards.

Umut Meler, the referee on the field, did not see that. After a radio message from video referee Bastian Dankert, he ran to the screen set up on the sidelines for such cases and watched the scene in super slow motion. He was also shown an image that visualized data from a chip in the game ball.

The chip responds to touch and thus it could be proven that Openda’s hand was actually on the ball. Video referees in a specially equipped studio room, a radio connection with the referee on the field, super slow motion, a chip in the ball – is football a simple game? Are you joking? Are you serious?

human factor

And yet, in the end, it has to be the person who makes the decision. It is the on-field referee who must assess whether there is intentional handball. That is the only thing that is punishable. A few guidelines should help with the assessment. For example, he must decide whether there is an unnatural hand movement. This is more likely if the arm is extended far from the body.

That was certainly the case when the ball hit Openda’s hand. But wasn’t that still a natural hand movement in the running game, where Openda wanted to push his body between the ball and the opponent? Not that easy. In any case, referee Meler canceled the goal, which made the Belgians very happy.

But was he really free in his decision? When he is called to the screen from the video room, hasn’t the decision already been made? And why do we have to deal with a scene for so long that no one in the stadium or on the field saw as problematic? These are the typical questions after a VAR intervention. They are now part of the game. They are not easy to answer.

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