Tech-creep in major sports


The recent World Cup in Brazil saw goal-line technology used to good effect for the first time ever. The technology was used after governing body FIFA had tried to hold back the tech tide in previous years by taking a firm stanceon the restriction of tech tools to help referees. This, perhaps, signalled the end of resistance to technology in the world’s favourite sport.

Whether this decision will now open the floodgates across all other sports is difficult to tell. But there’s a definite feeling that the moment was something of a watershedin the development and overall acceptance of technology in sports around the world.

Of course, it’s already happening in most sports bothon and off the field (or court) of play. At theWimbledon Tennis Championships, the biggest single event in the tennis calendar, “Hawk-Eye” technology has been in use for a number of years now.

Similarly, in the English Premier League – one of renowned domestic football leagues in the world – goal-line technology is currently enjoying its second season of implementation. And in Rugby League, the “video ref” has added an extra element of spice to proceedings which seems to have been welcomed by the fans. This technology does what it says on the tin; an official sitting in the stands carefully reviews the play, rewinding and playing in slow motion keyelements to decide whether it’s going to be a “try” or “no try” decision. The fans in the ground and the fans watching at home on TV get the same images at the same time the video ref is watching them – so we’re all part of the action. What’s more, the fans in the stadium often have cards they hold up with their preferred version of “try” or “no try” which is always partisan obviously.

In this case, not only has the technology become part of the action, but it enhances the whole experience and excitement for the fans. The fact that it also helps reverse decisions that would, in the past, have been incorrect is almost seen as something of a bonus.

Of course, we’ve seen the same thing happen in tennis. At Wimbledon, for example, the players are allowed three incorrectchallenges each as a maximumvia Hawk-Eye per each normal set, to challenge the officials’ decisions based on best efforts eyesight. The fans then do a build-up kind of cheer as everyone in the court and all those watching at home on TV watch the computer image ball making its way to be just one side or other of the line – and play continues. There is a bit of a break in proceedings but the players seem to have got used to it and the crowds at home and at the event itself certainly seem to welcome it.

We saw the same thing happen in Brazil this summer. France became the first team ever to benefit from the introduction of goal-line technology at a World Cup finals with their 3-0 win over Honduras.

France were leading 1-0 thanks to Karim Benzema’s penaltyjust before half-time. Then France’s lead was doubled just after the break when Benzema’s shot rebounded off the post, rolled across the goal-line and hit Honduran keeper Noel Valladares. Valladares thenattemptedto claw the ball back into play but the new technology indicated that it had crossed the line and Brazilian refSandro Ricci pointed to the centre spot.

Interestingly, though, there was quite a bit of confusion in the Estadio Beira-Rio when the fans got to see the images on the big screens in the stadium. That’s because the ball had moved along the line after it first hit the post, and a “No Goal” message was broadcast to fans in the stadium and at home. But this was followed by further graphics showing the ball’s second movement which indicated that it had clearly crossed the line and so a goal was given. Although this caused a little confusion amongstcommentatorsand the crowd, it was clear to most spectatorsexactly what had happened and why it was shown as it was – and it added to the thrill of the whole occasion.

FIFA had chosen German company GoalControl GmbHto implement the goal-line technology system for the World Cup. This was partly ironic because of English player Frank Lampard’s long range shot against Germany during the 2010 World Cup finals, when the officials incorrectly deemed the ball hadn’t crossed the line as it ricocheted down off the crossbar.

Anyway, the successful introduction of the technology at the world’s most watched sporting event will surely see the same done by all other major sports now, but some still lag behind. In Rugby Union, for example,a video referee or, more officially, a “Television match official” (often referred to as a TMO), is used in much the same way as previously explained at Rugby League. But the powers that be have generally been resistant to change and were relatively slow to adopt even this technology. The slump in advancements can not only determine on-the-field outcomes, but also disrupt thousands of punters’ bets on match scenarios, ultimately meaning more people and not just the players or fans are at expense due to lesser technological enhancements – which are readily available.

The same can be said for cricketon the whole, and this resistance to change is desirable in many ways. The great thing about many sports is their tradition of amateurism and gentlemanly conduct. The way a game is approached and played is far more important than who wins. But in this day and age, with so much money at stake in so many different ways – this kind of thinking is rather outdated it seems. While an unfortunate fact of life and sign of the times, it does give further reason to adapt to the resources currently on the market.

If you look at things form the other more “pragmatic” side of the fence – why not simply make sure the decisions are correct via the sue of straightforward technologies in today’s world, where all this stuff is relatively simple? Ungentlemanly conduct sometimes simplydoesn’t come into it, as in tennis, where good conduct is generally part and parcel of the game. The ball was either over the line or it wasn’t. Alternatively, bad behaviour is already so much a part of proceedings that to resist technology is spitting into the wind anyway? With the latter, we’re taking about football of course.

These days, players’ diving, being rude and aggressive to the match officials, and all the rest of the unsportsmanlike conduct we see on the field in every game helps make the spectacle well, a spectacle. It’s actually what makes the game interesting and riveting for many people despite the fact that they may say they don’t like it – or may not even be aware of it at a conscious level. Human beings are drawn to watching outrageous and aggressive behaviour. Nevertheless, anything that can unequivocally iron out the refereeing kinks in the game quickly and efficiently has to be welcomed.

We’re now past the watershed in the most popular game on earth. The floodgates have been well and truly opened. We’re now about to see much more technology used both in football and in many other sports on the field of play where so much is at stake. And this is all going to happen whether we like it or not.

As for the technology used behind the scenes to improve performance, monitoring, fitness, technique, equipment and all the rest of it –things are already happening behind the scenes that most of us can only really guess at. It is also happening within major tournaments, as seen recently at the US Open. But, it will have to be limited in some ways soon – or else it could have a detrimental aspect on the thing we love most about sport – the desire to strive for success and work hard.


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