Use new technology to make refereeing in sports more accurate

The Yomiuri ShimbunIt is no exaggeration to say that in sports contests, refereeing underpins the competition. The accuracy of judgments must be enhanced.

There has been a conspicuous number of refereeing errors lately in top-level sports contests that could affect the outcome.

In the J-League soccer game between Urawa Red Diamonds and Shonan Bellmare last month, a clear goal was disallowed by the referee, triggering an uproar and leading to the temporary suspension of the game.

In the women’s doubles final at the table tennis world championships held in April, the umpire made a ruling that appeared unfavorable to the Japanese pair. The tide of the match turned against them, and they eventually lost.

We cannot help but say that in both cases there was a problem with the judgment made by the referee.

The Japan Football Association is even considering introducing an additional assistant referee who will stand by the side of the goal to judge whether a goal was scored, in addition to the conventional placement of a referee and two assistant referees. The idea of deciding on goals with as many eyes as possible is understandable.

The use of video footage to assist referees can also be considered as a leading option. Such replay video has already been used in professional baseball games, and the J-League is planning to introduce it in all matches as early as 2021. Video footage will be utilized, according to the J-League, to decide in close cases involving scoring and the like.

This is an era when spectators can check relevant video footage instantly via a screen installed inside the stadium or through video distribution services. It will require a lot of money and time to introduce video assistant referees. But if the referee also makes use of video footage for reference, more accurate judgments will be possible.

Human judging also vital

There are also examples of the introduction of new technology enhancing the appeal of watching the contests. In tennis matches, cameras capture the ball’s trajectory and the spot where the ball touches the ground, with the captured scene shown on a screen inside the venue as a computer graphic. The technology has been effective not only in preventing refereeing errors but also in helping spectators enjoy the matches more.

Advanced technology is also being introduced in sports scored by judges, in which players pit their skills against one another. With the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 in mind, a new system will be introduced in gymnastics that will capture athletes’ movements with a laser, and use AI to analyze the accuracy of their technique. More objective scoring can be expected through this system.

On the other hand, it is necessary to remember that in some areas refereeing cannot be left to systems such as video referees.

In soccer, for instance, it is the human referee who ultimately determines whether a player was actually downed by an opponent or is just pretending. It will also be the referee’s judgment whether a player touched the ball with their hand intentionally, when calling a foul on a hand touch.

These judgments are underpinned by ample experience refereeing and the cumulative effect of referees’ daily training. Each and every sports organization should improve its fostering curriculum and training system and make steady efforts to improve refereeing skills.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 9, 2019)Speech


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