The last time my BlackBerry played up, I passed out. Before going on the blink, I was determined to break the damned phone into bits except that it proved sturdier than my resolve. It was only after my driver had reassured me that the end of the world was not imminent, and that my bank of numbers and messages could still be retrieved, that sanity was restored.
I will admit to being tech-palsy: The jargon, symbols and high fundas of New Age technology give me the shivers. It also makes me angry at my own inadequacies, and given half a break I would go back to the simpler ways of the Stone Age. But that doesn’t prevent me from seeing that greater use of technology in sports is the only way out of situations such as the one which occurred during England’s match against Germany in the football World Cup last week.
This does not mean that I believe England would have won. At least in this “World War”, they were simply overrun by the young Germans, who showed more speed, skill and elan. Yet the goal from Frank Lampard, which was disallowed when it clearly fell at least a few feet inside the line after hitting the crossbar, screams the question: Just why does Fifa not allow greater use of technology?
No show: The goal that got away.
I buy the argument that human error is integral to sport, indeed adds to its flavour. But there are enough of these made by the players, so where is the need to increase this by adding those of umpires, referees, et al? When an error robs the contest —inadvertently or otherwise—of basic fairness which is so essential to any sport, it can only diminish, not enhance, the value of sport.
How silly neglect of available technology can be detrimental to a match was brought home to me in the 1992-93 cricket series between India and South Africa. The third umpire had been introduced for the first time, and not without furious debate. Many critics reckoned cricket tradition was being tarnished, and there was widespread dismay that the authority of the umpires in the middle was being reduced
In the first Test when Sachin Tendulkar was declared run out by the third umpire—who had the benefit of slow-motion replays—this dismay turned into grudging delight that a wrong had been set right. Ordinarily, the benefit of doubt would have gone to the batsman, but not now. Technology may be intrusive but it had its uses.
In the second Test at Johannesburg, however, Steve Bucknor chose to ignore this facility when Jonty Rhodes was similarly short of his crease, as replays showed. But Bucknor had decided to trust his own eyes and made a monumental bloomer. Rhodes, on 28 when he got the reprieve, went on to make a century and South Africa, who were in a tight spot till this incident, recovered to reach a position of comfort.
In the 18 years since, the third umpire has become a crucial part of cricket. It would be blasphemy today if a field umpire did not refer a close decision (barring leg before wicket) to the third umpire. This has increased what I call the “fairness quotient” and made the sport richer without in any way impinging on its rhythm.
Indeed cricket, like tennis, has gone a step further and also introduced the referral system (albeit still on an experimental basis) in which any decision of the field umpire is open to review by the third umpire. While this would stymie a modern-day John McEnroe because he would have little to holler about, this has made the players and spectators more secure in their belief that they have not been “done in” by a bad umpiring/refereeing call.
The old theory that players must take the rough with the smooth and things even out in the end for them holds little currency in the modern milieu when so much is at stake: national/club prestige, individual reputation and future prospects/rewards. Umpiring errors can cost careers. At the very least they leave a sour taste in the mouth. For argument’s sake, if the Germany-England match had been a goal-less draw at full time and had England lost in the penalty shoot-out, it would be a travesty of football and justice.
I can think of a few sports in which use of technology may be extremely difficult: boxing, for example. But the proximity of the judges and referee to the contestants in this sport reduces the margin of error dramatically. Not so in football, which is played over a wide area and where the naked eye is liable to make mistakes.
It is incumbent on administrators to make sport fit into contemporary ethos and demands. While it’s laudable that Fifa wants to keep the game simple, it simply cannot be at the cost of the game’s credibility. This World Cup has seen too many gaffes which could easily have been redressed by judicious use of technology.
Just what technology, and how it can be used, I leave to experts to recommend. As I said, I have tech-palsy.
Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.
Write to Ayaz at firstname.lastname@example.org