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Dublin: 7 °C Saturday 19 October, 2019
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Opinion: Sport needs to move into the 21st century and embrace instant replay

Hawk-Eye and its like are fine, but sport has more issues of contention than just scores argues Steven O’Rourke

Hawk-Eye failed because of human error, the very reason it was put in place to begin with.
Hawk-Eye failed because of human error, the very reason it was put in place to begin with.
Image: INPHO/Donall Farmer

I REMEMBER CLEARLY the first time instant replay in sports made an impact on me.

The Oakland Raiders were playing the New England Patriots on a snowy night in Massachusetts when Charles Woodson apparently knocked the ball out of Tom Brady’s hands, forcing a fumble that looked to have won the divisional playoff game for the Raiders.

However, after looking at an instant replay, the referees saw that Brady’s arm was moving forward when he was dispossessed and invoked a little known law – since known as the ‘tuck rule’ – to give possession back to the Patriots. New England went on to win the game and the Oakland Raiders have been among the worst teams in football ever since.

Given that I’ve supported the Raiders for as long as I can remember, you’d image this would make me hate instant replay more than most. But I don’t. I love the fact that American football embraces this most basic of technology to examine all aspects of a game.

It’s for that reason I was never a fan of Hawk-Eye, even before last weekend’s debacle involving the Limerick and Galway minor hurlers. Are we really to believe that the only contentious incidents on a GAA, soccer or rugby pitch involve scores?

What good is Hawk-Eye if the referee misses a foot block preventing a goal or a TMO when a touch judge misses a forward pass in the build up to the awarding of a match-winning penalty rather than a try?

The arguments against instant replay are predictable a this stage but they are worth repeating here.

Video replays undermine the referee’s position

No. Referees, like the rest of us, are human and make mistakes. Who wouldn’t want that mistake instantly corrected and for everyone to move on quickly rather than for an error of judgement to linger over them, potentially, for the rest of their career?

Incorrect decisions make for fascinating debate among fans and the media

I hate to bring it up again but do you remember how you felt the night of that handball? Did you feel up for a fascinating debate then or just feel awful that your country had potentially missed out on a place in the World Cup because of cheating?

It would slow down the game

Slightly, but no more than players protesting contentious decisions does now anyway. If, for example, the GAA were to bring in instant replay, it would be important they put a time limit on how long after the event a replay can be called for and how long the replay official would have to examine the incident. If a decision can’t be reached in that time, the call on the field stands.

You couldn’t use it at grassroots level

Hawk-Eye is available in just one stadium at the moment and even the expanded TMO was only used in rugby games shown on live television last year. Instant replay could be used at any game where there are cameras in attendance.

Instant replay isn’t perfect and doesn’t catch everything

There’s no denying that instant replay still leaves room for human error but it also catches much more than we currently do in rugby, hurling, etc, and, while no system is perfect, over the course of 70/80 or 90 minutes, replays are better than most.

I began writing this piece on my phone while sitting on a LUAS on the way in to work. While researching it I was able to call up dozens of articles and videos highlighting contentious decisions where replay would have helped, all on a piece of equipment the size of a deck of cards and costing about €100.

Technology is faster, cheaper and more accessible than ever before and yet organisations like the IRB, GAA and FIFA refuse to fully embrace one that’s been around for decades and one that anyone who has ever worked a DVD player could operate.

I can’t believe it’s 2013 and I’m pleading for the introduction of a technology that was around when my granddad started watching sports, especially when there’s no coherent argument against instant replay other than some misguided belief that mistakes are part of the game and the craic we have discussing them in the office and pub afterwards makes up for the fact our team got knocked out of the Championship or lost a Heineken Cup quarter final.

It’s inevitable that instant replay will be used in all our favourite sports, I just can’t understand what it’s not happening now.

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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