The A-League Final Proves Tech Isn’t Ready To Replace Human Referees

I’m not a big fan of soccer. I don’t mind watching the occasional game but it’s not a game I particularly care for. This weekend, Melbourne Victory and Newcastle Jets played out a match that was decided by an umpiring error. But it was an avoidable error being blamed on a failure in the technology that detects players when they are offside. The system broke down meaning that a clear violation of the rules was missed and the only goal in the match stood when it ought to have been disallowed. But the role of technology in sport has been vexed for some time.

Tennis, soccer, Australian Rules, cricket and others have been looking for years to eliminate one of the most frustrating elements of their sports – human error from umpires. Tennis had the Hawk-Eye system for some years that detected when the ball went past a line, emitting a beep. But that system was ditched from the professional ranks in favour of one that players can request a limited number of times if they think the human adjudicators have made an error.

A similar is used in cricket for run-outs, stumping and LBW decisions. Australian football has been using a score review system for moments where the umpires are not certain if a goal that has been scored should stand and rugby league uses it to ensure that a try is legitimate.

The technology was introduced to reduce the number of umpiring errors. But is that a goal worth pursuing?

The technology has been deployed to complement or supplement the referee or umpire doesn’t always work. Technology is meant to be remove any potential for an erroneous decision. Instead, it pisses fans off as it results in delays to the flow of play, can result in misuse by players and, as anyone who has worked with technology knows, it can fail and leave lots of people red-faced.

As a sports fan, I understand the frustration of being a fan and seeing the umpire make a mistake. But I don’t want to see that human element gone. Sport is a battle between a person and an opponent. And another human decides if what happened falls inside or outside the rules. No-one likes it when a mistake is made but the technology being applied to helping umpires is not making many of our sports any better to watch.

Part of the wonder of sport is its unpredictability. And human referees and umpires are part of that unpredictability. Technology doesn’t remove the errors and it often only adds to frustration in the form of delays when the flow of play stops for a review or anger when the technology fails.

What do you think? Should sport ditch technology that is used to overrule umpiring decisions? Or does it make sport better?


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