Growing advancements in the last half century or so have provided grounds for sports’ critics to voice their support for replacing the umpires and referees who carry the chances of human error and mistakes with error free technologies during the decision-making process.
The concern was further supported with the increase in games and sporting events being played globally, the amount of attention to each action given by the spectators and more media coverage being given to the events along with the subsequent melodrama and repercussions that follow after any wrong decision by any member from the judging community. Although the issue still remains debatable, it has paved the way for technology to help support, facilitate and assist the on-field umpires and games officiating referees.
Umpires and referees are caretakers and custodians of the game but that doesn’t mean they can’t make mistakes
The umpires, referees or panel of judges ensure that the game on the field is played with the highest integrity level, displaying sportsmanship while remaining within the boundaries of all the rules and regulations laid down by the international governing body of that game.
Certain board games such as chess and scrabble or even card games allow the players to score themselves with mutual agreement to modify, twist or come up with their own set of rules beforehand. However, there is hardly any other game, which may not require consistent scrutiny by a referee. There may be an umpire who would be running along with the players passing the ball through the lush field or a set of judges sitting on the sidelines watching the game closely.
Generally, umpires in almost all the games are dressed in their unique kits, usually contrasting with the players’ kits. Most of these happen to be white, black or a combination of the two, setting them apart from the other players. Although the umpires go through different umpiring levels and courses, too, it is almost a given that they have also been players of the same sport at a certain level before taking up umpiring.
As a rule of thumb and thanks to the job description of their title, generally all umpires and referees are equally respected. Some get even a notch higher with their consistency, precision, honesty, being conscientiousness and providing religiously for the role they are assigned. However, being only human, sporting history is also marked with some regretful instances where the umpires tried to influence the outcome of the game with their unethical and biased decision-making, sometimes out of loyalty to their home teams and sometimes for personal monetary gains. They are the ones who bring shame and disgrace to one of the most respected and noble professions in the sporting world.
The umpires, referees or panel of judges ensure that the game on the field is played with the highest integrity level, displaying sportsmanship while remaining within the boundaries of all the rules and regulations laid down by the international governing body of that game
In order to ensure that umpiring standards improve, the concept of neutral umpiring gradually seeped in most sports globally. It meant that the referee officiating a game rather not belong to the hometown of any of the two teams playing. This was likely to limit the possibility of any biasness. Neutral umpiring would also guarantee that in a tense or high-voltage game, especially when two archrivals or teams from the countries who may have been at war earlier, the umpire may not get carried away by patriotism or feel the pressure of the player, spectators and the game itself. A neutral umpire, comparatively, in this scenario would likely remain composed, calm and collected.
But even with neutral umpiring the possibility of mistakes is always there. During a tense final of a world cup, or a match between enemy states or even a friendly match that may suddenly turn into an emotional thriller, the umpiring too may get affected. A wrong red card, missing a clear outside edge of the bat or even the ‘Hand of God’ in the dying moments of the match may result in reversal of the probable outcome of an extremely crucial game. And after such a match when the umpires come to know about their blunders, they have themselves shown remarkable sportsmanship by publicly apologising for their oversight.
Any individual associated with sports needs to hit the gym regularly in order to keep in good shape. Umpires and referees, too, need to keep themselves fit as they must stay abreast with the speed of the game they are officiating. For instance, a match referee in a football, hockey or any other field game should be fit enough to run across the field along with the players. Similarly, those umpires in wrestling or boxing rings or on baseball or cricket fields who rather remain within a certain area throughout the match should be able to witness and clearly identify the scoring points without being a point of concern to the concerned parties. Thus, mainstream high profile and budding umpires also need exceptional sight and hearing.
Thus the speed of a swimmer, runner or rower could be gauged down to micro seconds, a spinning googly could be trailed back to where it was pitched, impacted and may go all the way to hit the stumps, slow-motion reruns could tell whether a goal was scored or the player was off-side and if even a back hand return to the acing service was within the baseline or not. All this is thanks to new technology giving the umpire an added advantage of human error-free judgement.
Technology will always keep on improving in order to provide huge assistance to humans but the role of judging and final decision-making based on the circumstances and emotions involved on the field is always likely to rest with the human.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, October 12th, 2014