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Sport betrayed by its failure to embrace technological truths [Dec. 11th, 2008|12:15 pm]
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Whatever the location and however manifestly crass the circumstances, professional sport continues its naively amateurish dalliance with the world of technology.
 
Whether it be rugby at Cardiff, cricket at Chennai or soccer at Sunderland, too many sports continue to endure an agonising debate over the merits and perils, in no particular order, of allowing technology to darken their doors.
 
Havelock Ellis’ jibe that ‘progress is the exchange of one nuisance for another’ may well contain more than a modicum of truth. Yet the non-committed, outside observer in this debate would surely express a sense of bewilderment at sports where the occupants’ careers can be on the line yet accurate application of the laws remains at best a loose association with reality.
 
There seems a common thread among so many sports that questioning the decision of a designated match official is simply beyond the pale. Far better, it appears the argument goes, to see illegal tries or goals scored or innocent batsmen given out, than assault the Holy Grail of sporting society; namely, running the risk of exposing an official as guilty of a human error of judgement.
 
Cricket umpires, rugby or football referees are Gods who should not be subjected to close scrutiny in the decisions of their working environment, appears to be the belief of those in authority. Challenge a decision and you undermine the entire foundations of the whole sport, is their warped, flawed philosophy. This surely is the policy of the madhouse.
 
Too little concern is given to the potentially alarming consequences of permitting such mistakes to stand. Had the New Zealand Rugby Union bowed to public demand at the end of last year and sacked their national coach Graham Henry, a wondrous 2008 for the All Blacks might never have happened.
 
Henry’s ‘crime’, in the eyes of a baying mob back home, was to preside over a New Zealand side which failed in its quest to win the World Cup. The fact that France ejected them in the quarter finals only because the English referee Wayne Barnes missed a clear forward pass that led to the decisive try was overlooked in the subsequent outrage.
 
Should any coach, or player, lose his or her job because a match official has made an incorrect decision? Ask the England batsman Paul Collingwood who was erroneously given out caught by the New Zealand umpire Billy Bowden in the India Test match in Chennai today, whether he would gracefully accept being dropped from the side in the light of such a decision.
 
Bowden’s aberration at a time when Collingwood is fighting to retain his Test place after a run of poor form, may yet have huge repercussions for the Englishman.
 
Regularly in the Barclays Premier League, goals are scored from offside positions, as with Robin van Persie’s opener that decisively altered Arsenal’s match at Chelsea a week or two back. What beckoned as a likely Arsenal defeat became a victory for Arsene Wenger’s side.
 
Yet in every instance, a third or fourth match official, or TMO or whatever you wish to call them, studied immediately the replayed television images and understood implicitly that the wrong decision had been made. Technology manages so much of our everyday, modern lives yet in the curious world of sport, its most valuable role is shunned.
 
This disturbing masquerade in which the palpable truth is all but airbrushed away or urgently swept under the carpet, does no sport credit. It reveals an uncertainty in vision and leadership. Few Governments hesitate to use every possible trick in technology’s armoury yet sports bodies are as timid as church mice in acknowledging its potential value.
 
The only possible downside, it seems to me, is that those who have made the errors will have to put up their hands and accept culpability. This, many would argue, is a small price to pay for ending up with the correct decision in the sporting theatre.
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