Michael Grotticelli /
11.25.2009 10:40 AM
Should video be used to referee all sports?

The president of Europe’s football league, Michel Platini, says soccer is a “human game” in which mistakes are inevitable. For that reason, he is opposed to using video technology to aid referees in decisions. The systems typically use a combination of video servers and slow-motion replay controllers to analyze plays.

Platini’s view, however, may be old-fashioned and controversial. Video is already being used around the world in such sports as baseball, football, rugby, cricket and tennis to aid officials. In fact, the first video ruling in an MLB play-off game — a single by Alex Rodriguez — helped the New York Yankees win the 2009 World Series.

American football uses an official replay assistant who can initiate a review in the last two minutes of each half and in the overtime period. The replay assistant is not limited as to how many replays he can request. When a play is challenged, the referee has 90 seconds to review the play. He views the play on a field-level video monitor.

The main argument for using video in sports rulings is that the technology reduces the level of mistakes made by game officials. This eases the pressure on them during critical play. The referee knows that if he is not totally certain about a decision that he can refer to the video and make the correct call after watching the replay.

In Europe, the controversy over video is intense when it comes to football. There are many questions. What circumstances would be necessary for the referee to call on the video replay? Would the ball have to be dead and the play stopped? If so, what would happen if a team has a shot that they think has gone over the line but bounced back into play?

The referee wouldn’t be able to ask the video assistant until the next time the ball goes out of play, which raises even more questions. What happens if the opposition goes up the other end and scores before the ball goes dead again? Would the referee look at the video evidence, see the ball did actually cross the line and award the original team the goal while disallowing the other?

Or does he stop play immediately, risking preventing the team another chance in any ensuing melee and significantly slowing the pace of the game down?

So many questions are being raised about video in football that some say the introduction of the technology would fundamentally change the sport. Some have suggested that only “big” decisions should be handed over to the video referee.

However, that raises the question of what constitutes a “big” decision. The difference between “big” decisions and irrelevant decisions often come with the result and consequences of the decision.

Another issue raised in this debate is the entertainment factor of the sport. Controversy creates entertainment, especially in games like football. The “water-cooler effect” suggests that TV viewers go to work or school the next day and talk about the incidents that occurred. Less controversy means less talk, excitement and outrage. Could video decisions make sports more boring?

Platini’s position has many advocates. Unless a faultless video technology plan is conceived, many think the game should be played as it has been for centuries. Because few sports are perfect, one risks losing what makes a sport popular in the first place.

An error-less, machine-run game scares many people, especially those who like the seed of excitement that makes sports thrilling as a subject of conversation and debate.



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