Is the King of Sports Medieval?

Today participants in the sports industry are all competing for a slice of a whopping near £400 billion pie and football remains the king above all of them by quite some way at around £70 billion (if not more). As you can imagine this figure easily dwarves most other sports, many small nations would be jealous of such an operating budget in fact. Yet football is way behind many other sports in embracing new ideas and modern technologies.

Sport at its core pits one competitor against another, be that an individual or a team, performing to the best of their responsibilities to achieve success, credit, recognition and to inspire those that support, enjoy watching and ultimately financially contribute towards their endeavours. Much needed officiators try to ensure a fair and balanced competition whilst all three accept that mistakes are going to be made on occasion. Our measure is how mistakes are learned from when they do happen and improved on to enhance the competitive experience for all involved.

Most professional sports in the United States have long used instant replay and other high-tech aids to help referees make the right call. Basketball referees use replay systems to make sure players are shooting within the time allotted by the shot clock. Even in cricket, where the vast majority can’t understand how a game can end in a draw after 5 days, a third umpire has been used for many years to assist with TV replays on disputed catches, boundaries and run outs. More recently cricket has adopted two processes from tennis, hawk-eye for ball tracking predictions and the decision review system (DRS).

DRS has taken some time to develop and settle into place where it works consistently for both sides but has already been proven to improve the percentage of correct decisions being made. It is then up to the team and their captain when DRS is used and how often because it can work against them if the decision goes the other way. The primary function has been to eliminate “howlers” – decisions missed or so obviously wrong that they adversely effect a fair result.

Technology opposers the likes of Michael Platini cite objections based largely around cost, the time added for decision reviews and that it takes away the “human” element from the game if every decision is contested and decided by technology. What Monsieur Plonker et Al are overlooking is that this simplistic rebuttal is not the case when applied in reality. His preferred 5 man officiating system has failed to spot countless debatable incidents over the last 3 years despite his insistence otherwise:

“The technology would need to be installed in 280 stadiums for European football. It would cost around 54 million euros (£46m) over five years, so it’s quite expensive for the sort of mistake which happens once every 40 years. In the Champions League, I’m very happy with the results (of a five-man team). Practically no mistakes have been made and the referees see practically everything that happens on the pitch.”

Be real Platini: £165k per champions league club over 5 years each earning millions is a small price to pay for something that I have counted happening easily five times in the last three years just involving English sides, let alone other nations.

In cricket, stats have actually shown that more often than not the umpire’s decisions have been correct 8 to 9 times out of ten. DRS has only enhanced this statistic and teams’ respect for an umpire’s decision with the technological proof for all to see that the right decision was made. I’ve yet to see one umpire run and hide when they’ve had their decision reversed by the process. In Tennis players get 3 reviews per set and does not significantly add to the amount of time spent on court; if anything it does add help to the theatrical drama with close calls though!

In rugby, (some nameless individual) referees are often guilty of making mistakes under pressure through their own interpretations of complicated rules impacting on the result of a match. Yet they will still use technology when they feel they need to. They don’t shy away from it, they call on the video referee when they are uncertain of a decision and need some clarification. There are a handful of incidents at most per match? I’ve yet to see a game go beyond the two hour mark.

Football simply cannot afford to continue saying it will never embrace new practices and technologies: It already has with goal line technology set to start featuring next year and the advantage rule already extended to work much like it does in Rugby Union.


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