Signal Bip keeps the referee in touch
The upgrading of "linesmen" to "referee's assistants" is not just playing with words or mere lip service to those who do the job on the part of FIFA. With the introduction of Signal Bip, the men or women out on the sidelines really do have a new role to play, which enables them to support the referee in the middle better than ever before.
He can all remember a similar situation: a team is on the attack, making progress down the middle and getting close to the opponent's penalty area. The referee is there where he belongs - level with the play, but behind his back, maybe 30 meters away, a player attacks an opponent unfairly. The referee's assistant has seen the incident and tries to catch the referee's attention by frantically waving his arms. To no avail. The ref is involved with the state of play and before he next makes contact with the assistant so much has happened (a goal, corner, free kick etc.) that the incident is never penalised.
Occurrences of this kind are now a thing of the past. Calls for better communication between a referee and his assistants have become louder over the years, and FIFA has been aware of the situation. With an eye open for any technical improvement that would not alter the basic character of the game, the Referees' Committee decided at the end of 1995 to try out an acoustic communication system, developed by a French company, Label, at the Olympic football tournament in Atlanta.
Label, basically a manufacturer of alarm installations and acoustic systems, developed the first prototypes early in 1996. In agreement with the French Football Federation (FFF) and UEFA, the system was tried out in French cup games as well as in the match Nantes-Juventus and the semifinal matches in the Champions League. The results were successful, so that it was agreed to hold further trials during both the men's and women's football tournaments at the 1996 Olympic Games.
The basic concept is both brilliant and simple. Built into the referee's assistant's flag is a transmitter which communicates at the touch of a button with a receiver carried by the referee. The system is permanently switched on, with the electronics and the batteries, plus the activating switch, being housed in the handle of the assistant's flag. The receiver, not even the size of a packet of cigarettes, contains a decoder, a power supply and gives both acoustic and vibratory signals. It is fixed to the referee's upper arm. Thus, either by sound or vibration, the ref will be made aware that one of the assistants is trying to get his attention, and he can tell by the tone which one it is.
The target group for this unique product is very clearly defined at the moment: the elite among the world's approximately 750,000 referees. With the top refs as trend setters, Label hopes to be able to expand its market for Signal Bip to referees in lower leagues all over the world. And the situation looks good. Most of the top French refs have expressed enthusiasm for the idea. Marc Battia spoke of an "umbilical cord" between the referee and his assistants, which had been missing till now, and his colleague Pascal Garibiani was very positive in his evaluation of the extended role of the assistant and his flag: "At last we have flags that are not just waving at the sky."
Experiences in France
Label has also recently gained the support of France Telecom, one of the official suppliers for France 98, not just in name but in terms of practical know-how provided by its research centre.
Based on the very positive outcome of tests in the early months of 1997, FIFA has also signed a contract of cooperation with Label. During 1997 and this year too, FIFA will use the Signal Bip system in all of its competitions. The high point of this cooperation will of course be the World Cup, which will provide Signal Bip with 64 opportunities to prove itself on home soil.
- The frequencies used can be adjusted to conform with the legal requirements in any country where the system is used.
- The range is calculated carefully so that is sufficient for the intended use but does not waste energy.
- Security against malicious interference is guaranteed by a code system using moer than 65,000 coding possibilities.
- The system’s low energy requirements guarantee a long life before it is necessary to change the batteries enclosed in flag or the receiver.
- The power supply is provided by blocks lithium batteries, with an alarm indicator in case one batter in the system is running low. There is an automatic cut-off device built in to switch the system off after the estimated time of usage, in order to save energy in case the device should accidentally be left on.