When television replays in sport were first introduced they were called “Action Replays.” They are pretty much accepted as part of a broadcast now, but when they came in they were revolutionary, as suddenly even if you had averted your eyes for a split second, or had to run to the loo, you still had the chance to see a goal or a try you had previously missed.
Hot on the heels of the “Action Replay” came the “Slow Motion Replay.” This saw the action slowed down so that experts could analyse what happened in the game and explain and educate the viewer. Incredible as it may sound today in 1970 the International Football Association Board, who writes the rules of the game “agreed to request the television authorities to refrain from any slow-motion play-back which reflected, or might reflect, adversely on any decision of the referee.”
Now many sports are using the television replay and other technology to ensure that decisions made on the pitch are accurate. Many will say that the technology is there so why not use it, but in truth it once again comes down to money. With success in sport worth millions of dollars to individuals, teams and associations, one bad decision leading to a loss can be catastrophic financially.
The big problem televised sport faces now is how long the Television Match Official (TMO)is taking to make a decision.
Obviously these men and women want to do the best job possible. Obviously these men and women want to make sure they look at every angle possible to ensure that they come to the right conclusion, but is it spoiling the viewing experience?
In the rugby World Cup we are witnessing the TMO informing the referee of infringements that have been missed by the main official and his assistants. Play is stopped and taken back to the place where the infringement occurred. Is this really necessary?
Surely that is part of the joy and frustration of playing sport, that officials will occasionally miss things, after all they too are human. It is just like a goalkeeper, their mistakes are magnified.
Should the TMO have a set time in which to make a decision? At cricket now the crowd at the ground can be waiting close to two minutes for a decision to be made, while the TMO checks whether the bowler’s delivery was fair, watches the normal vision in slow motion, then reverts to “Hotspot” to see if there was an edge and also “Snicko” to listen for a sound. It used to add to the excitement when the scoreboard flashed “Decision Pending,” but after more than 30 seconds the crowd tends to lose focus.
The same can be said in other sports where the process is long and drawn out and is in fact now affecting the flow of the game itself. A team that was well on top and pushing for a goal, wicket or try often does not want a two minute delay, they want to maintain that pressure. The defending side will often welcome it, as it gives them a chance to regroup. In rugby when such a situation arises the pitch is flooded with medical staff and water carriers, and in the main they are carrying messages from the coaching staff.
In sports where teams have a referral, meaning that can question a decision and have it viewed by the TMO, often these are used strategically purely to slow the game down or break the momentum. It is in the rules, but is it what the fans want to see?
The technology may be there, but is its use being taken too far? Whereas before it added something to the viewers experience, is it now spoiling that experience? Do we need parameters to be set so that the flow of the game is not interrupted? Should there be a time limit in which decisions must be reached, and if that decision cannot be reached as in the days of old in games like cricket, the benefit of doubt went in favour of the batsman?