Time to Review the Reviewers

The opening lines of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” could easily have been written with match officials in mind.

“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;”

Now it would be fair to say that it could apply to Video referees and umpires.

These officials, sat in the stands were introduced to aid the officials down on the pitch, who occasionally, as after all they are only human, made decisions in a split second which were wrong. They never had the benefit of television replays or different angles that the commentators and viewers at home had. All they had were their own eyes.

At the Hockey World League semi finals in Johor Bahru in 2013 the hockey umpires agreed to wear cameras on their heads. This was a superb innovation by the broadcaster Astro, as it showed the viewer the view the umpire had of key incidents. The problem was the equipment was very cumbersome and the officials found it awkward to wear.

The aim of the video officials was to help. They would have the benefits of technology. They would assist the official down on the pitch and ensure that less wrong decisions were made. So how is that many of these officials, even with the benefit of television replays, clearly get it wrong?

It is interesting to remember when television replays were first brought into cricket, the late David Shepherd and Dickie Bird chose not to refer to the video umpire and kept making decisions on the pitch. The broadcasters and the powers that be tried to make them refer to the replays to make sure they were correct. Yet they were convinced that they were right, and that to do so what be unnecessary and a waste of time. Replays then showed that these two experienced umpires were in fact correct. The reason is that both were ex-players, which clearly helped, and both were at the pinnacle of their profession.

At the weekend just passed the Western Force saw a yellow card issued to Dane Haylett-Petty at a crucial moment in the game against the Hurricanes, a game that will determine their season, and could well determine the club’s future. Unfortunately even professional rugby union now has the awful sight of players making contact look far worse than it was in order to gain a penalty, and this was the case with TJ Perenara. The Hurricanes scored a try and had the added bonus of Haylett-Petty being sin-binned. They then ran in two more tries with him off the pitch, and the game was over.

What was a concern was how many times the video referee watched the replay, it was fairly clear to most that Perenara had run into Haylett-Petty and then theatrically gone to ground. There was no malicious contact, and Haylett-Petty was in fact pulling out of that contact. Yet the replaying of the two coming together by the video umpire made it appear as if rather than dismissing the incident he was looking for a reason to punish the player. It was a dreadful decision.

In other sports we have also witnessed some atrocious decisions by the Video Umpires. Perth Glory fans felt that the video official in their A-League semi-final against eventual Champions Sydney FC made a blunder.(The writer was overseas and has not seen the incident in question) Would it have changed the result? Who can tell?

In field hockey we have also witnessed some astounding decisions. One at the Hockey World League semi finals in Belgium had the potential to see Ireland miss out on Olympic qualification for the first time ever. Luckily for the men in green South Africa withdrew and they went to Rio. The video umpire again saw play differently from everyone in the stadium, the players on the pitch and the coaches, and not surprisingly – although not condoned – Ireland’s coach made a bee-line for the video umpire post match. He explained in no uncertain terms how that decision could well have seen him lose his job.

This is another consideration that video officials must take into account. IN professional sport people’s jobs are on the line. Therefore they must be absolutely 100% sure in their own minds that the decision they make is right. If they are unsure, then they should always stick with the decision of the officials on the pitch.

In 2007 at the Rugby World Cup Final Australian referee Stuart Dickinson was the video referee. England’s Mark Cueto touched down for what England and their fans felt was a legitimate try. A try that would have narrowed the Springboks lead to just one point. The decision from the video referee took an age, the reason it later transpired was that the French producers of the broadcast did not understand what Dickinson was asking for in terms of a replay. Eventually he made a call that Cueto’s foot had gone into touch, and the try should not stand.

This was a tough call. It was an unpopular call with the English, yet it was the right decision. Under pressure, and while all about him were losing their heads Dickinson kept his cool and made the right decision.

As Dickinson said at the time, “His foot runs into touch by about 25 to 30 centimetres. Factually it is indisputable. If you know the decision is correct and people are still upset, well there’s nothing you can do about that is there?”

Yet sadly too often in modern day sport even with the aid of technology those with the power to make sure that the decisions made on the pitch are correct are still getting it wrong. Why?

Is it that the various sports have opted for the wrong people to be sitting in the box watching the replays? Is it that they are called on so rarely in a game that they are not 100% focussed as they would be down on the pitch? Is it that they fail to keep their heads while all about them are losing theirs? Live television can be a frantic environment and the officials are in communication with the producer, who in turn is instructing his video operator to find the clip the umpire wants to see to help him make or clarify a decision already made. Maybe some are not cut-out for such an frenetic environment.

The fifth line of the poem “If” is “If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,” Stuart Dickinson took that line to heart. He did not mind how long it was taking to get the footage in 2007 as long as he made the right decision, as he explained post match. “With the language barrier between me and the French TV producers, I wasn’t able to get frame-by-frame pictures last night. The producer didn’t slow it down for me so I had to make the judgement in real time. That’s why it took so long. Eventually we got that view down the line which cleared it up.”

To some it feels like the television officials are now making more mistakes than the officials down on the pitch. Which defeats the object of using the available technology, which was supposed to aid the men in the middle. Clearly all sports need to take more care to ensure that they have the right people in such roles, competent officials, who as Kipling said ‘can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs.” There is no doubt being a video official requires a different set of skills to being a match official, and some are cut out for it, and some have shown that they simply are not.

Time to Review the Reviewers
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