Does technology in sport undermine the role of on-field officials?

Technology in sport was meant to be used as an aid to on-field officials, prompting them to make the right decisions most of the time.  Officiation blunders have cost many teams at marquee events; a prime example being, Frank Lampard’s shot against Germany in the 2010 World Cup, where a point was not awarded despite the ball being clearly over the line. Had VAR (Video Assistant Referees) been in use at the time, the scoreline might have read differently.

Technologies, such as the VAR in football and the DRS (Decision Review System) in cricket, have helped ensure that there are reductions in the number of obvious officiating blunders. Also, technologies like these have been used as a safety net; they downplay the harsh criticisms targeted at these officials who have to make crucial decisions in a matter of seconds. Moreover, teams have been more accepting of this technology as they realize that many games are decided on fine margins and having this technology to resort to when needed ensures that the element of misfortune in games is watered down.

Photo [Wikipedia Commons]
However, whilst being a form of aid to these officials, it can be argued that through the over-reliance on this technology, these advancements in sports-related technology have resulted in undermining the role of and the authority held by these officials. Elaborating on this point, in cricket nowadays, teams seem to not hesitate in using the DRS to review a majority of decisions made by the umpire, even though it could be said that a fraction of these umpires’ calls seems to be the right decision. In addition, when considering football, in the UEFA Champions League this season, we’ve seen referees accommodating several unnecessary stoppages in play to review calls made that seem to have no controversy at the onset. Not only do these stoppages hinder the development of momentum in the game, but it also undermines the authority and control over the game possessed by these referees.

There is an unquestionable hierarchy on the field. The umpires and officials supersede the players who have to respect the officials and the calls made. Prior to this modern-day technology boom in sports, aspiring sportsmen and women were encouraged to respect the official’s decision and not challenge it on the pitch. However, through the increased involvement and dependence on technology in sport, players may be incentivized to challenge the official’s authority, especially when a review leads to the original decision of the referee being overturned.

Photo [Pixabay]
As much as technology in sport has its benefits, the spirit of sport commands players to respect their officials, irrespective of the nature of the decisions made. In order to preserve this respectful atmosphere, it is important for players, officials and the relevant authorities to review the usage of an over-reliance on technology. Whilst it is great that more correct decisions are being made, the authenticity of sport also involves the odd wrong call which is just a part and parcel of the game.

Whilst it is true that players should be rewarded by being given the correct decisions, umpires and referees should be rewarded for their tireless efforts out in the field over a prolonged period of time. These rewards revolve around respect. Respect stems from the fact that their decision is final and through the knowledge that all players have to abide by the calls made. If every decision is being reviewed and overturned, why have these referees and officials in the first place? We could quite easily use technology as a fail-safe substitute. Yet, this would go against the authenticity of sport and the lesson learned- that we need to respect those who officiate these games. We do not always make the right calls in life but always aspire to do so and we need to be respected for that. That is the spirit of officiating as well.

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