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Football, General, MLB, Sport, Technology, Video

Darth Vader: Sports Administrator

Darth Vader


Watching yet another howler made by a sports official I was struck by a strange thought.

Wouldn’t Darth Vader have made a great sports administrator?

No really.

Let’s look at the skill set. Ability to get things done? Check.  The Dark Lord of the Sith possesses an undoubted ruthless efficiency (just ask Captain Needa and Admiral Ozzel).

Hands On? Probably best ask Captain Antilles.

Negotiating skills? Yes. Vader has an excellent record of achieving his aims, apart from the whole quashing the rebel alliance thing.

Ready to uphold the traditional values of the organisation? Definitely. The strong-arm of the Galactic Empire puts a lot of emphasis of the ‘old ways’ and is not too fond of technological advances.

“Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.”

It’s this aversion to technology which could be his best asset. Some of the world’s leading sports exhibit tendencies which, to be polite, would make Ned Ludd look like Steve Jobs.

The incident which sparked my Vader whimsy took place in baseball this week.  A runner had slid home, was clearly safe and the umpire – the perfectly positioned umpire I should add – ruled him out. Jonah Keri has written a remarkably good rant about this incident over on Fangraphs.

TV viewers knew the Ump had dropped a clanger within seconds of making the call. How did we know? We watched a TV replay. The replay was not available to the umpires.

Followers of football can empathise.  In 2009 Freddie Sears scored for Crystal Palace against Bristol City. The ball hit the stanchion at the back of the goal and bounced out. The officials missed it. They didn’t give the goal. It was a weird echo of the Clive Allen incident in 1980. In the case of the Sears decision it almost had disastrous implications for Palace who just managed to avoid relegation.

How did we uncover this injustice? Was it a Freedom of Information request, a large-scale police investigation? No. It was a TV replay seconds after the event. The officials are prevented from referring to the replay, so the decision stayed. The goal was not awarded.

There are myriad examples.  Roy Carroll’s keeping error against Spurs, Lampard’s Strike against Germany in the World Cup.  All could have been solved within seconds by a TV replay.

The frustration is that the technology to overturn a sporting injustice was on hand, yet sports bodies refuse to sanction it. It’s not just football and baseball, the demand to use technology in sport is happening everywhere from  Aussie Rules – where there’s a similar debate, to the Gaelic Athletic Association, which is seriously considering the introduction of technology.

The aversion to technology in sport is a position I fail to understand. Resistance to change is supported by any number of facile arguments, the most popular being technology is not reliable, it will slow down the speed of the game, undermine the authority of officials and put a major barrier between amateur and pro sport.

Let’s deal with them.

Unreliable technology In most instances a TV replay can sort out any confusion. There are on average around 20 cameras at any Premier League game, a similar number covering MLB games. Most angles are covered so most incidents can be picked up.  A dedicated TV official can be designated to make a call based on TV evidence.

What about goal line technology? Systems already exist take a look at this report from the BBC.

Talking of the BBC, it’s broadcasting Q branch (the R&D team) was also experimenting with positional sensing, using camera positioning to triangulate objects. The University of Surrey is carrying out research in the same area

The whole point about reliability is spurious. We haven’t attempted it in an in-game situation.  The worst that can happen is they get a call wrong – thus maintaining the status quo.

It slows down the speed of the game Nope. Rugby Super League uses a video official extensively to make calls. The decisions are usually made within a minute of the referral. Even more complex technology like Hawkeye in cricket and tennis, the hotspot and snickometer in Cricket are turned around in relatively quick time.

Going to the video referee also means that players are less likely to surround the official, arguing the toss if they know the incident is being looked at from a number of angles by a dedicated match official.

Undermine the authority of officials Really? So it’s better to have a referee excoriated in the press for a poor call than to actually get it right on the pitch where it matters?  In sports where technology is used, the authority of the referee hasn’t been undermined.  Those worrying about teams trying to game the system can also look at more technologically accepting sports for a lead.

In cricket, the NFL and tennis the number of challenges to on-field decisions which can be made to video officials are restricted to prevent spurious challenges. Human error is a fact of life, we’re all fallible (unless you’re the Pope).  Technology does not design the referee out of the game, it provides another tool for them to use to reduce the risk of a mistake.

Differentiate amateur and professional sport This is always my favourite. Amateur and Professional sort is different – to suggest that technology changes the fan’s perception of the sport is nonsense.  We have different expectations of what the two mean. Does an absence of TV mean the players for the Kings Head XI won’t turn up on a Sunday? In some instances just having a referee and nets is a bonus.

When it comes to watching professional sport our expectations are different. We invest money and emotion in supporting the teams of our chosen sport. We expect the officials to get key decisions right, we may not like them in some instances, but at least if they get them right you can accept it.  Professionalism means those involved should display a high degree of competence. Fans expect and deserve it – it’s why so often we’re disappointed.

Fans aren’t naïve they know that in professional sport more is at stake – championships, records, money.  Technology can help officials make the right call.

I honestly don’t know where the technophobia comes from. I realise people are resistant to change, but surely if technology offers a way of making decision-making in sport better it’s a no-brainer.

Thinking about it, perhaps Vader would actually be a good sports administrator. Who better than a lightsabre-wielding cyborg to recognise the value of technology.

Search your feelings, you *know* it to be true!


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