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Image recognition – defense against a Lampard replay?

Geo-location missing an open goal

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The inventor of image recognition technology used in sports across the world has written to international football's governing body to ask that they reconsider using Hawk-Eye, a tool capable of spotting when a ball has crossed the goal line – and avoiding a repeat of the England versus Germany World-Cup debacle.

Speaking ahead of this weekend's Netherlands versus Spain final, Paul Hawkins - managing director of Hawk-Eye Innovations - has yet to get a reply from FIFA.

His letter comes ahead of a meeting by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) at the end of this month, where use of goal-line technology like Hawk-Eye will be discussed. IFAB sets football's rules and says what technology is allowed in matches.

Football's lawmakers rejected use of goal-line technology before the World Cup – in spite of IFAB approving use of a modified version of Hawk-Eye in a pilot three years ago at Reading FC.

That was before England midfielder Frank Lampard's goal was disallowed against Germany during a World Cup round-of-sixteen match in South Africa, in a match Germany won 4-1.

The linesman might not have seen the goal, but it was clear to the rest of the viewing world what had happened.

When FIFA announced its decision not to use goal-line technology, general secretary Jerome Valck said he hoped it would not come back to haunt them.

The haunting didn't stop at England versus Germany. Mexico fans watched horrified as Argentina's Carlos Tevez scored a goal that was clearly offside – clear to anyone but match officials. The goal helped end Mexico's world cup challenge.

Hawk-Eye's inventor reckons you can solve offside too. Hawk-Eye could track players in the same way it tracks balls by combining the data to determine a position. "That's technologically achievable – we could do it," he said.

The problem is that the work takes funding, and nobody wants to press on given IFAB and FIFA's apparent objection to use of on-pitch technology.

The reason for this is unclear, especially given that IFAB OK'ed the Reading pilot of Hawk-Eye in 2007 and 2008. The pilot was paid for by the English Premier League, which has come out in favor of goal-line technology.

A common objection is it might spoil the game by creating stoppages in play. Others say the technology might not be accurate.

Hawkins has no time for such complaints, claiming Hawk-Eye can get results from the goalmouth into a ref's ear in half a second. "Anyone who makes that argument doesn't know what they are talking about," Hawk-Eye's inventor told us Friday ahead of the final.

Hawk-Eye has proved its accuracy in tennis, cricket and snooker, and Hawkins modified the system for the Reading pilot once he got the clearance from IFAB.

The football systems uses six cameras around the goalmouth to record the action, with each camera hooked up to a server to capture and process data from the frames. Data is fed to a central server and knitted together to triangulate that position of the ball to a distance of within 5mm.

The image scanning and processing software is built in C++ and at Reading ran on Windows and Dell servers, with algorithms tweaked so the software could account for more people in a tighter spot – the penalty box and goal mouth – and differentiate, for instance, between the curve of a ball and that of a number "2" on a player's shirt.

The Reading test passed with full marks, catching thousands of goal-line incidents.

"Ultimately the software processes the images to always find the ball even if part of ball is obscured,' Hawkins said.

If IFAB and FIFA are against HawkEye's image recognition, they have few other options – even in the age of location-based services.

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Next page: Anyone for GPS?

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