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Tackling Hawkeye – Bournemouth’s uphill battle

The Premier League season came to a conclusion with dramatic final day in July. A point for Aston Villa (AVFC) in their final game saw them survive the drop to the Championship, whilst AFC Bournemouth (AFCB) were condemned, falling into the relegation zone by just a single point.

Reports have recently surfaced that AFCB are considering a legal challenge against Hawkeye, the provider of the Premier League’s goal-line technology. This follows a controversial moment in a match between AVFC and Sheffield United (SUFC) in which Sheffield United clearly managed to score a goal against AVFC, but the goal was not given (as Hawkeye did not send the correct signal to the referee indicating the ball had crossed the goal-line) and the match finished 0-0. AFCB were considering legal action on the basis that had AVFC have lost this match, AFCB would have stayed in the Premier League and AVFC would have been relegated. Given the loss of revenue AFCB will face as a result of their relegation, it’s no surprise legal action was considered, however talks on this issue have cooled recently. Below, we take a look at why AFCB may have decided against taking legal action, and what may have prompted the proposed action in the first place.

Firstly, there is precedent for a Premier League club taking legal action as a result of their relegation for an incident during the Premier League season. In 2006/07, SUFC were relegated following a miraculous final day win for West Ham United against Manchester United. The winning goal was scored by Carlos Tevez. What was crucial in this case was the fact that West Ham were later found to have breached the FIFA rules relating to third party ownership in relation to Carlos Tevez, as well as various rules regarding withholding information. West Ham were fined for these breaches, instead of being docked points (which was the expected punishment). SUFC took action against West Ham for this reason, and West Ham were eventually ordered to pay SUFC £20m in compensation. The major difference in this case was that West Ham had specifically breached a number of rules, so were liable to SUFC for this reason. In the case of AFCB, it is perhaps more difficult to establish that Hawkeye, or AVFC had actually breached any rules.

In addition to the above, AFCB’s claim is unlikely to succeed because:

  1. It is acknowledged that Hawkeye is not 100% accurate, and requires 25% of the ball to be visible to work properly.
  2. It is arguable that VAR should have intervened when the video replay clearly showed the ball crossing the line. Instead, VAR didn’t act, on the basis they assumed Hawkeye was working properly.
  3. Rule C.8 of the Premier League rules (governing the determination of goals) states that the referee’s decision is final. As the referee did not award the goal, even if due to an error, the decision is final.
  4. It would be incredibly difficult for AFCB to argue that the error by Hawkeye was the direct causation of their relegation. There is no guarantee that AVFC would have lost the match had the goal been given, or that other results would have conspired to relegate AFCB in any event.

Therefore, although AFCB may have sought to argue that Hawkeye owed a duty of care to AFCB which was breached, it is difficult to see AFCB succeeding in any legal action.

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