The Roar
The Roar


Umpiring errors aren't a sin in an imperfect world

Roar Guru
12th February, 2012

How would you feel if every time you made an error at work, fifteen thousand people were made aware of it?

Worse still, when attention was drawn to your error, how would you feel if these fifteen thousand people applauded your incompetence?

Watching the tennis in Melbourne recently, I pondered this every time a player contested a linesperson’s ruling via Hawk-Eye.

The crowd would start a slow clap in anticipation of technology’s verdict on whether the ball was in or out, and when the challenge proved successful, invariably a large round of applause followed.

Each time a player challenged a call, I stared intently at the linesperson whose judgement was being questioned, searching hard for any sign that the outward appearance of composure masked an inner tumult that must overcome someone when their decisions are drawn into question in front of a crowd of onlookers.

Talk about workplace stress!

It has to be said that the decisions of the line umpires more often than not were proved correct by Hawk-Eye.

A similar setup exists in cricket, where the Decision Review System (DRS) allows for players from each team to contest a certain number of umpiring decisions each innings in matches where both captains have previously agreed to the system being used.

When Hawk-Eye and the DRS were first introduced, I liked them. As near as I could tell they were both close to foolproof, and the tension which accompanied a crucial decision being made added quite a bit of excitement.


But now I’m not so sure.

Watching the Australian summer of tennis, too often the players used Hawk-Eye as part of a wider tactical ploy to waste time between points to allow them to get their breath back, or for Hail-Mary challenges on clutch points.

My belief that the DRS is good for cricket has also waned as I’m not convinced of its accuracy, particularly in adjudicating LBW decisions.

The idea that technology can remove all bad decisions is, in itself, a flawed one. It might reduce the frequency of bad decisions, but to suggest that it can completely eliminate them is untrue.

The technology available can tell us a certain amount, but it still takes a human to interpret the information (or write the program which analyses the data), so human error is not necessarily removed in full.

I’m not convinced it makes sense to replace an imperfect system of human error with an imperfect technological solution, with the added dimension of human error still thrown in. The increased use of technology seems like an unwanted encroachment into the games I love.

Following a different line of argument, human error is part of sport, so why shouldn’t it be part of umpiring?

Sport is theatre, and the idea that technology can ensure that every decision is always correct takes away a bit of fun. What will spectators howl at from their seats high in the stands if there aren’t any umpiring errors?


Umpires have a tough gig. They’re widely heckled and belittled. I have never been the whistle-blower, but I don’t fancy the position that they are in.

As much as punters might shout themselves coarse from the grandstands, at the elite level the vast majority of umpiring decisions are correct. That’s what makes particularly poor umpiring decisions so memorable.

My greatest fear is that technology will be introduced to review decisions in AFL matches, most specifically goal umpiring decisions. I am yet to hear of an infallible system which would ensure correct goal umpiring decisions all of the time.

I’d rather be labelled a dinosaur and rely on the flag waving men at each end of the ground to adjudicate goal umpiring decisions than spend minutes waiting for a decision to be checked and counter-checked, and still have the risk of the wrong decision being made anyway.

You can follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelFilosi