Are video referees a help or a hindrance?

TECHNOLOGY has given us many benefits – of that there is little doubt. At times, however, one does tend to wonder whether technology does more harm than good.

This has been brought home to me recently by two incidents – one, a statement by the authorities who run Australian rules football to the effect that they would look at having video referees to help the referees on the ground, and two, an incident during an Australia-New Zealand rugby union game.

Australian rules football — which the Australian state of Victoria is crazy about — holds its final in September and this year the team that won did so by a margin of 12 points. In this code, that means two goals. And for a goal to be awarded, it has to go through without touching the posts.

There was one clear instance in the final where the winners were awarded a goal even though the ball clearly touched one post. When the ball touches the woodwork, only one point is awarded — it is called a behind.

There was a second instance when a goal was awarded to the winning team even though the person who kicked it had committed an offence on an opposition player just before collecting the ball to kick the goal.

Instead of awarding a free kick against the infringing player, the referee let him play on and kick a goal.

There was a third instance where the referees missed blowing the whistle when one of the losing team was heading goalwards and had his jumper yanked to prevent his progress. Whether he would have kicked a goal or not is open to speculation but that was clearly an infringement deserving of a free-kick.

That meant a total of 17 points was in dispute – and the final was won by 12 points. Hence the statement about video referees by the official of the Australian rules governing body.

Of course, there is a lobby which does not want technology to be part of the refereeing process at all. They argue that once video replays are accepted as a means of judging one thing, then there is the likelihood that people will want everything to be adjudicated by means of video replays.

Clearly, that would add a considerable amount of time to the game and annoy the audience. It would also remove one element, that of human unpredictability.

And you don’t want 90,000 people involved in a fracas – that’s about the crowd that the Australian rules final attracts each year.

In the case of the rugby union game, there were some additonal factors at play. The game was staged in Tokyo which meant that a fairly decent sum must have been paid to the Australian and New Zealand boards by the Japanese authorities.

Union has four officials in all – one in the field of play, one on each sideline, and one television match official. In this game, one of the linesmen and the television match official were both Japanese.

Hence when there was doubt over the grounding of the ball by an Australian player in the first half — getting the ball down firmly would have meant five points — the television match official was called on to make a judgement.

He had to communicate his decision through the Japanese linesman who would then tell the referee what it was.

But after two minutes and 50 seconds — I counted — there was still no decision and the referee, who had been growing impatient by the second, awarded a try to Australia. In the end it did not matter because New Zealand won the game. But had they lost, this would have been a point of contention.

In my judgement, the decision was wrong and I was unable to fathom why the television match official took so long and could not yet see that no try had been scored.

But the point is that with the best technology at hand — and Japan is second to none when it comes to technology — the video match official was of no use.

I guess technology has its place but it is not infallible. It is only as efficient as the humans who use it.