Have you tried turning it off and on again?

Kevin Pietersen’s dismissal on Monday yet again raised questions about the use of technology in sport. The issues with DRS have been widely publicised through media coverage of the current Ashes series, and the use of technology has once again come under scrutiny.

In the quest to fill time and column inches, many of the medias brightest stars often explore entirely fruitless avenues in the quest to validate their opinions. Calling for the removal of technological support for umpires and referees until it is 100% clear is certainly a case of this.

First and foremost, it is worth indicating technological support is just that. It is there to support referees and umpires; not to replace their decisions, but to help them reach the best decision possible. DRS was brought in to eradicate howlers, and has raised the umpiring success rate by around 5%-6%.

In the case of rugby league, video referees are there to adjudicate when the referee is unsure whether to award a try. It’s difficult to ascertain how many tries would be allowed or disallowed incorrectly, but the system gives referees an insight not otherwise possible.

In the Ashes we have had an unusually high error rate. This has been caused both by poor referrals from top order batsmen- in the case of Shane Watson using up a review which enabled Chris Rogers’ ridiculous dismissal by Graeme Swann- and some poor on-field umpiring putting a high stress on the technological assistance.

With DRS referrals involving hotspot the issue becomes blurred when there is no spot and an on-field referral of out. This seems to lead to consternation and dismay when the third umpire supports the on-field decision. Surely this is evidence of the technology at work?

These on-field decisions are rarely howlers, and with the use of stump microphones to focus on the noise as the ball moves beyond the bat these decisions are often validated by ‘snicko’. The odd decision will be missed, but it still helps to bring up the average in terms of correct decisions. Though the sooner the technology involved with snicko is improved to build the sound faster then it will only enhance the third umpire’s decision-making process.

As Wigan entertained Hull KR on Friday, the Video Referee’s decision to award Josh Charnley’s try further undermined the use of video referrals in general. Martyn Sadler, Editor of League Express, called for the video referee to be scrapped. This kind of opinion belies a lack of understanding of the systems involved and the potential for human error.

Without technology, referees would be in the parlous position their counterparts in football find themselves. Fans are given the opportunity to see challenges and decisions almost instantly. The referee is then left to justify his instantaneous decision and is open to ridicule and abuse.

Technology in sport is open to the issues befalling any decision-making process; human error and interpretation. The advantages are there to see, but in a competitive environment there is the issue of subjective opinions of fans and players at play.

It isn’t claimed technology will completely eradicate umpiring and refereeing errors. Humans making decisions will make what can be perceived as errors, but that doesn’t mean technological assistance is invalidated as a result. It requires a moment of clarity from fans and commentators to understand why this decision has been made, why technology is there to begin with and the limitations of the technology.


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