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May 10, 2010 | by  | in Opinion |
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The Reverse Sweep

Officiating has become a rampant area for discussion in the professional sporting era—especially as a result of recent technological proliferation. There is widespread daily debate on the topic of the use of technology to make difficult decisions. Currently in Australasia, rugby refereeing is close under the spotlight.

The recent draw between the Hurricanes and Crusaders is a prime example of where technology is used incorrectly. Experienced South African referee Jonathan Kaplan awarded an injury-time try to Crusaders hooker Ti’i Paulo, when video footage showed insufficient evidence. Kaplan did the right thing originally by going upstairs for confirmation. However, he instructed television match official (TMO) Glenn Newman to try to find any reason NOT to award the try. Hence, as replays were inconclusive, Kaplan awarded what his first reaction had been—a season-altering try.

The TMO is there to make decisions, and as the rules in rugby favour the status quo (i.e. benefit of the doubt to the defending side); as such (all too frequent) incidents of a ball lost in a ruck should result in an attacking five metre scrum only.

Another highly controversial decision led the standing down of ex-Kiwi ref Steve Walsh, who disallowed the Brumbies what appeared to be a legitimate try, which would have given them the chance to snatch a draw against the Waratahs. These two incidents in particular have been critical to the semi-final hopes of all the teams involved. Surely nobody wants to see a South African final!

Although rugby does have a reasonably good technology setup, there are those who believe human error is part of sport. Surely, though, it is better to be safe than sorry, in a world which prides sporting achievement very highly.

Rugby is certainly better equipped than football, technology-wise. FIFA is yet to allow any off-field influence on match decisions. This has been to the detriment of the sport, as there have been multiple incidents of great importance to many. Most recently, as I have touched on previously, Thierry Henry’s ‘Hand of Frog’ denied Ireland a spot at this year’s World Cup, while Chris Payne’s ‘Hand of Payne’ condemned our Phoenix to defeat at the A-League’s penultimate hurdle.

Sports such as tennis and cricket have introduced challenge/referral systems to avoid umpire blunders, and I believe this is an excellent initiative.

In crucial match situations, bad calls are very costly, and lead to widespread discontent. However, there should at least be measures in place to minimise bloopers, and referees should not only come under the spotlight for match-altering decisions. In this day and age, technology is our ally, and should be utilised to its full potential.

I am sure you would agree that another ‘Wayne Barnes’ at a sporting pinnacle should be avoided at all costs!

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