After experiencing the VAR system in all its “glory” at Wembley last Wednesday, I thought I would put together my opinions on how different sports use various technologies to assist their referees and umpires. Before I dive into what I believe certain sports do well and do not do so well at, I should say that overall I am in favour of using technology to help with getting decisions correct. Refereeing/umpiring is hard (if you don’t believe me, give it a go) and any support given to officials will enable more decisions to be made correctly and allow the best team to prosper, which is exactly what the rules/laws are designed to do in the first place. Anyway, let’s have a look at what a variety of sports do.
In my opinion, rugby union show cases possibly the best use of technology in sport. The television match official (TMO) can only rule on exactly what the referee asks them. The TMO is only normally consulted about possible trys or events immediately before a potential try. The reason this works so well for rugby is due to the nature of the game. When a try is scored, there is a natural break and so it allows the TMO to be consulted and does not disrupt the flow of the game. I would only be nitpicking if I was picking holes at the system rugby have in place but, as I will say later on, unfortunately this system will work for very few sports.
Tennis is the sport where technology works next best in my view. The line calls displayed on the big screen add to the drama and engage the crowd watching on. I like the fact that players make the call to “challenge” here. This allows the game to be played out normally, unless a player feels aggrieved. My only issue with tennis is I feel each player gets too many reviews. If they are able to be used to tactically slow the game down (and Hawk-eye is abused like this) then they are affecting the core sport itself, and that is not a good thing.
I am a big fan of technology in cricket as, like rugby, it has natural breaks in-between each ball that allow the time for a review and, like tennis, I like the fact that the call to “refer” is in the players hands. However, the Ashes series this winter was a shambles in terms of third umpiring. I like the changes to LBW, with the keeping of a review if there is an “umpire’s call” involved, but some of the other decisions made were a disgrace. Cricket seems to have forgotten they have two umpires on the field to make calls and I believe they should be forced to make a call (a soft signal if you like) before the decision goes upstairs. If there is not conclusive evidence to overturn the on field decision then it will not be changed. There were run out when the line wasn’t clear and catches overturned when “snicko” and “hot-spot” disagreed. Decisions should not be changed if there is not a glaring error and, like with “umpire’s call” in LBW, if one technology says out and one technology same in allow the team to keep their review.
Personally, I cannot believe how bad VAR is in football. The wobbly offside lines in the Man Utd vs Huddersfield game were frankly an embarrassment. I could have drawn more accurate lines using a screenshot and Microsoft Paint!
The strange atmosphere in the ground when all you can see is the referee holding his finger to his ear is horrendous. I have been to 123 Rochdale games (52 wins, 34 draws and only 37 losses if you were interested) and this was by far the weirdest thing I have experienced in all that time; and you get some quite weird things following Rochdale. This is the first thing that needs to be addressed. Wembley is very well equipped, as are most top grounds nowadays, with large screens and they should show what is being looked at. It at least allows the fans to see what is going on. If a clear decision cannot be made within a minute (2 at most) then there is obviously no clear error and the referee’s initial decision should stand.
There is also an over-reliance from the referee. He seemed to check every important decision. Now you might think that is the right thing to do, but if the goal is so obvious there is no need to check it. This is why I am a fan of putting the power in the players’ hands. Allow each team one review; if they use it correctly they can keep it and if they get it wrong, they lose it. This would almost certainly reduce the time spent standing around as I think you will find teams won’t want to gamble their one review unless they are adamant that they have been wronged. This has worked well in another sport close to my heart, hockey. However, it has occasionally been abused by teams attempting to stop a counter attack. My solution here is to allow the game to continue until the ball goes out of play and then if teams wish to take it back they can do.
Overall there is no right or wrong, and this article is just my opinion on what works well and what doesn’t. If you disagree with me then leave a comment and perhaps we can solve sporting reviews for generations to come.