July 6, 2012 at 1:51 PM ET
Referees of the beautiful game got a 21st-century assist with the official approval of goal-line technology Thursday from the sport’s main governing body.
The International Football Association Board approved Hawk-Eye and GoalRef technologies to determine when a ball has fully crossed the goal line, thus counting for a score.
The technology is a first for a sport that has long relied on human judgment alone, often to the chagrin of fans treated to replays of disputed calls. Many remember a controversial non-goal ref call in the 2010 World Cup that eliminated England from the tournament that Germany went on to win.
The Hawk-Eye system uses an array of six cameras positioned around the goal to track the flight of the ball. The separate views are combined to create a 3-D representation of the ball’s path. A radio signal alerts the referee when a goal is scored. The process takes less than a second.
The camera-system has been used in cricket and major tennis tournaments over the past decade, including Wimbledon.
The GoalRef system employs a soccer ball embedded with a special chip along with sensors in the goal posts and crossbar that produces a low-magnetic field.
The magnetic field is equivalent to a light-curtain. When the ball completely passed through it, the magnetic field changes and referees are alerted to the goal with an encrypted radio signal. The “goal” message is displayed on their wristwatch.
The GoalRef technology was developed at the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits. To date, the developers have used balls made by Select, a Danish manufacturer, but said all approved balls can be equipped with the technology.
FIFA aims to introduce the goal-line technology at the Club World Cup in Japan this December at a cost of about $200,000 per stadium. It will certainly be in place for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
The use of technology in soccer has long been controversial, unlike in many major U.S. sports leagues where instant replays are standard fare (think American-style football, for example).
The IFAB’s approval came with the emphasis that “technology will only be utilized for the goal line and for no other areas of the game.”
Major League Soccer, the New York Times notes, has long offered to test goal-line technology and “will doubtless be one of the first leagues to embrace the new system.”
John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. To learn more about him, check out his website and follow him on Twitter. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.