Technology, Entertainment or Integrity?

Technology causes friction between the integrity of a game and the game as an entertainment vehicle.

I have and will always be a huge fan of technology, and how it can be best used to improve the skills and development of the game, as well as providing a significantly improved spectacle for those attending a game – either at a stadium, on some type of mobile device, or having it streamed into your home in some way.

However, as this article points out, there can be some unintended consequences of technology and how it can be used to decrease the entertainment value of a sport, as well as impact upon the integrity of the game.

Those sports which actively promote technology usage during the course of the game do so for two principal reasons –
1. To ensure that decision making by those people who adjudicate the game such as referees, umpires, match officials is 100% accurate, and
2. Provide stakeholders with commercial gains, significantly media, from game presentation, that then drives broadcast, digital media rights

Of course, there are a number of other reasons given for the inclusion of technology, but peel the onion back, and it is these two factors which drive sport administrators, marketers and media organisations’ decision making.

But as we see from the baseball article, in pursuit of making some decisions in baseball 100% accurate, rules have been introduced to allow decisions to be over- turned by appeal – and not necessarily the decisions for which the technology was originally designed.

In sports with which I am more familiar, cricket, rugby union, rugby league, umpires or referees are now subject to some decisions being reviewed during the course of a game. Interestingly, the decision making process for match officials occurs every moment of a contest, but the only decisions that are reviewed are generally those from which an event of ‘game significance’ occurs; ie, tries, wickets, offside plays, illegal contact.

And it would be interesting to review, of these ‘game significant’ events, when do these decisions receive most attention. I would suggest, that if a contest is relatively tense or close, or when a contest moves into the final phases of play prior to its conclusion, decision making by officials comes under extreme scrutiny. For rugby followers, Craig Joubert’s career has almost been defined on his awarding a penalty to Australia in the World Cup qtr-final verses Scotland that allowed a winning conversion to be kicked on the fulltime whistle. Joubert, along with his touch judges and TMO, would have made 100s of decisions up until that point without any furore or much comment.

The integrity of the game was immediately under siege by the virulent attacks on Joubert’s refereeing ability, the non-use of technology, the lack of support for the referees shown by the IRB.

NRL rugby league referees with whom I have worked with during the course of this year, are constantly under immense pressures to get every decision 100% accurate, especially those that can lead to a try being scored or not.

This group of officials do an incredibly good job of not only administering the rules, but also manage the game which is made up of hot-headed young males, in a physically tough environment, urged on by screaming tribes of supporters, and subject to the demands of coach & club alike.

Very few people appreciate the total number of decisions made by match officials during a game, their high % of getting decisions correct, and the extent to which they review every aspect of their ‘team’ performance in game so that they can improve for their next game.

The technology, and often the way that it used by commentary teams, or tabloid writers is used to find fault in the game, and importantly, in the officials who ran the game.

state of originIt is an outright attack on the integrity of the game, and constantly erodes the code’s brand.

This may seem to be an inaccurate statement given the amount of broadcast $$ that are being paid to cover Rugby League, and indeed other codes; however. broadcasters do not always have the game’s integrity in mind, but rather their view on what the game should provide as entertainment.

To deal with the constant barrage the NRL face every week, they have now invested in the ‘bunker’ system – some $8million dollars. One wonders if there was some sort of balanced approach between entertainment and game integrity where else could this amount of money be better spent?

Cricket has allowed players to appeal umpiring decisions. How is this good for the integrity of the game when an umpire’s decision is called into question because technology may show that in some instances throughout the course of an entire match, they have made an error.

I do not see players appealing to the umpire when they ‘got away’ with something like an edge that was not picked up as no one appealed; or runs with which they were credited, even though it came off the body or pad.

shieldAnd now cricket in conjunction with broadcasters have opted for a pink ball in Test cricket so that the game can be played under lights. Apart from there being no conclusive evidence that the pink ball will be better under lights from a playing perspective, there is no evidence that spectators will flock back to Test cricket for the long term.

Administrators have consigned Test cricket to two forms – those games which play traditional Test cricket with a red ball, and those games that use a pink ball. And of course the pink ball games will only be irregular because very few grounds around the world have the technology of lighting to allow this to occur.

Which brings us back to the start of the article – there is a place for technology in sport. But understanding what it brings with it, intended and unintended consequences is critical to delivery of a quality product. But, if it impacts on the integrity of the game what will be deemed most important by the decision makers of the game?? My view is that there will always be a price for which integrity will be sacrificed……………………………..


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