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The Tech Twist

Technology has revolutionised our lives and sports is no exception –some say the thrill is gone while others enjoy the enhanced accuracy. But, if the circumstances are right and it is used appropriately, technology can make a decisive difference to sporting

Today, technology plays a crucial role in almost every realm. One might argue for the minimalistic usage of technology in sports, but contrarily, most organisations panning different sports have embraced technology as it severely cuts down on human errors.

The advent of technology has greatly impacted the way most sports are played. One set of arguments put forward emphasises that the usage of technology slows down the speed of the game and also leads to a change in momentum. At the same time, we cannot deny that a game becomes more enjoyable from a viewer's perspective as lesser errors occur with more correct decisions being made.

Most professional sports use instant replies and other high-tech aids to cross-check the on-field referee's/umpire's decision. Basketball referees use replay systems to ensure that players are shooting within the time allotted by the shot clock. In international cricket, the third umpire has been used, one sitting off the ground with access to TV replays of certain situations (such as disputed catches and boundaries) to assist the central umpires. The umpires out on the field are in communication via wireless technology with the on-field umpires. The third umpire is also asked to adjudicate on run out decisions, which he makes without consultation with the two central umpires.

One sport that has resisted the use of high-tech assistance until very recently is football. After years of calls for video technology to be implemented as assistance for referees, it was rolled out in competitions around the world in 2017, including the Bundesliga, Serie A, Champions League and World Cup.

Technology never rests, it is a celebration of new ideas, tests and challenges to overcome.



Hawk-Eye Technology

Humans are fallible. Deciding who has won a tennis game or a sprint race can come down to a millimetre-accurate decision. So, when an Olympic gold medal is on the line, small wonder that we turn to electronics for guidance. This technology uses six or seven high-end cameras situated above the field of play (e.g., a bird's-eye view) to analyse the flight and trajectory of an object being used in the sports competition. Most commonly used in tennis, cricket, rugby and volleyball, Hawk-Eye Technology has been in use since 2006 in tennis and is many times more accurate than a judge's eye.

VAR – Video Assistant Referee

FIFA first used video replays (Video Assistant Referee or VAR) at the World Cup in Russia in 2018, to assist with referee decisions. This followed successful trials over preceding years. There are four types of calls that can be reviewed: goals, penalty decisions, red card decisions and mistaken identity in awarding a card. The video assistant referee reviews video replays of the event and where there is a clear error, s/he can relay that information to the central referee via a wireless radio on the headset worn by the referee.

In 2018, VAR was incorporated into the Laws of the Game by football's lawmakers, the International Football Association Board (IFAB). Had there been this technology in 1986, would Maradona's famous 'Hand of God goal' be considered a legitimate goal? The outcome of the World Cup might have been different and Maradona probably wouldn't have been who he is today.

DRS – Decision Review System

The Decision Review System (DRS) is a technology-based process for assisting match officials with their decision-making. On-field umpires may consult with the third umpire (an Umpire Review) and players may request that the third umpire considers a decision of the on-field umpires (a Player Review). Under DRS, a player may request a review of any decision taken by the on-field umpires concerning whether a batsman is dismissed or not. Sachin Tendulkar remains the first batsman to be ruled out on DRS.

Prosthetic Devices

What used to be the end of a story is now just the beginning of a new one. People with disabilities or lost limbs, never received a chance to compete. But with the advancement of prosthetic technology, more and more physically disabled are competing in the international arena. Placed in body suits embedded with motion sensors, athletes go through a series of drills based around athletic movement as cameras and wearable tech report back on their movements. The prosthetic design process begins after this motion study, which in the end creates a custom prosthetic that moves with their body.

HANS Device

A large number of technological advancements in sports revolve around safety, and the HANS (Head and Neck Support) device used in motorsports is one of the most famous. At the time of seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt's death on the track due to head and neck trauma, Thomas Gideon, senior director of Safety, Research & Development of NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing), claimed that only about six drivers were wearing a HANS device. That moment changed the sport as more drivers adopted this technology, geared towards saving their lives in the event of a tragic crash. No driver in a major series including F1 has been killed by a basilar skull fracture since it required the use of a HANS device.

(The writer is Sub-Editor, Millennium Post)

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