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11 August 2015

The Rise of Technology in Sport

Season 2013/2014 saw the introduction of goal-line technology for the top flight of English football. The most watched league on the planet finally put an end to discussions in pubs and around dinner tables up and down the country – ‘did the ball cross the line’?

Similar to the Hawkeye technology in sport used in tennis and cricket, sensors along the goal line alert the referee when the entirety of the sphere had crossed its boarders and like an overzealous officer of the UKBA sends an alert to the watch on the ref’s wrist – ball to centre-circle- we go again.

Despite being the world and the nation’s most watched sport, football is the Johnny-come-lately of the incursion of technology in the decision-making on the field of play.

When it comes to tech and its’ use in points scoring, tennis, rugby and cricket have long since adopted various intricate and at times bleeding-edge tech.

For instance in International cricket, the third umpire has been used to supplement the role of the two umpires on the ground. The third umpire is equally qualified, and sits off the ground with access to TV replays of certain situations, such as disputed catches and boundaries to advise the central umpires. The umpires out on the field are in communication via wireless technology with the other umpire. The third umpire is also asked to adjudicate on run out decisions, which he uses video replay and makes a decision without consultation with the two central umpires.

Many argue that perhaps the reluctance to open up the ebb and flow of the ‘beautiful game’ to the scrutiny of the technological precision of things such as goal-line tech is in order to preserve the human element of the game as suggested by the trustworthy and honourable Sepp Blatter and the list below are his reasons.

  • The potential inaccuracy of the technology
  • The difficulty in controlling the new ball
  • The game will no longer be the same at all levels
  • The high cost of implementing the technology
  • It undermines the concept that the referee’s decision is final
  • The human element of decision making in other areas of the game is still substantial and does not reduce the risk of inaccuracy
  • Finally that spectators love the debate

Has technology taken decision-making away from the custodians of the Sports?

Let it never be said that we are removing the importance of accurate measurement in sport. Technology has allowed us to improve the performance of athletes, by literal and metaphorical leaps and bounds. From statistical trends tracking to define form and technique, to scientific research to determine diet, the development of new-age materials to develop better more efficient gear and kit and finally to the end user (spectator) viewer experience.     

So what’s the big deal?

The Olympic Games, the biggest culmination of global sports is weighed and measured almost purely by degrees and mechanics; who crossed the finish line first, who jumped, threw the furthest etc. However, it can be argued that the continued incursion of the ‘third eye’ (4th and 5th in a few other sports) that seem to now challenge every decision umpires and referees make, what we as the spectators see has become increasingly vague, obtuse and subject to continuous replay, scrutiny and at best apathy. Not only will broadcasters drag a match’s flow with non-stop replays, the viewer will use the rewind feature to play out their own personal judgement; no moment seems to exist in its own vacuum as a solitary experience that arrives, is consumed and passes just as easily.

For fairness, in the name of the Game?

So, why? Why spend so much to implement such measures?

It’s rather simple, to ensure fair, impartial and accurate analysis and outcomes in games where financial sustainability or survival of a business is at stake. Whilst this is true, the push for tech is not as benign as many would have you believe. The Premier League’s TV rights alone is worth £3billion and rising, putting so very much on the line to ensure survival in the league tables.

The past season was a case study in refereeing errors. It can then be easily argued that there is far too much at stake to have the human eye as the sole custodians of the judgement in the outcome of sporting events of huge financial significance.

A shifting position

As things stand we have little to fear from the machines, more gadgets, gizmos and widgets that will continue to permeate sports in general and become just as part of the game’s equation as the players, ref’s and spectators. It is merely a necessary evolution of sports – to be as accurate as possible.

Expect the future of sports to become even more so measured and scrutinised by more and more machines as more requirements become necessary to ensure the judgement is fair.

All in all, more is gained than is lost with the entrenchment of technology to the everyday (we are sure that as you read this from your smartphone/tablet you would agree?), besides, there are still plenty of discussions to be had over a pint such as ‘was he offside’? ‘was there contact in the penalty box’ and ‘I wonder what that foam the ref sprays tastes like’?

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Written By Tom