Watching the highlights of the final day’s play of the Old Trafford Test last night, I was struck by just how much more exciting sports technology has made the product. Far from interrupting the flow (the primary concern it appears, of the footballing authorities) decisions referred to the third umpire create another moment in the game for the crowd to get energized about. For the TV viewer there is nothing interruptive about the experience of watching a review unfold. On the contrary, experiencing the ‘did it? was it? would it?’ scenarios, accompanied by great commentary, is very entertaining, borderline thrilling (do I need to get out more?). When a decision is reversed, there is no rebuking of the umpire from players or spectators, just acceptance of the fact that they are human and prone to making the odd errors of judgement that are inevitable in any top class, high speed sport.
The same applies to rugby. The crowd loves it when the referee goes to the TMO (Third Match Official) and asks them the question. Sure, occasionally the third match official needs to do without the umpteenth angle, explored for the tenth time at super slow speed, and just make the damn decision. But most of the time these are moments of drama which allow the crowd some much welcomed involvement. Just listen to the reaction as the result of the video review is announced.
Earlier this year, FIFA announced that live trials will start by 2017-18 at the latest, bringing football a key step closer to following rugby and cricket in using video technology. It was a decision that was heralded as ‘historic’ in some quarters. Personally I’m not sure about that. It feels like a lazy process to me, set in the context of a sport that is complacent about its marketplace. The fans still come, prices still go up, what’s the hurry?
Let’s see. I have a feeling that when it finally does arrive many will be asking the question “what took us so long?”