Of Things Big and Small

To tech or not to tech

The vuvuzelas have become silent. The Bafana-Bafana have gone home. Larissa Riquel has put on her clothes and again taking them off, but this time for her modelling profession. And there are attempts to canonise/give knighthood/barbecue octopus, Paul. And Shakira has stopped shaking and gyrating. The Spaniards are in seventh heaven (with Rafael Nadal’s triumph at Wimbledon) and the Jules Rimet trophy.

Then there are the losers... the analysts... the pundits... and the controversies. Football has its own share of ridiculous to rowdyish controversies. Long back, Uruguay and Argentina fought over whose ball to use and finally playing the first half with Argentina’s ball and the second half with Uruguay’s. It got rougher in the Chile-Italy match (1962) and rougher with England-Argentina (1966). Things became more serious resulting in the red-yellow card penalty system. We saw players spitting on others and then the head butt of Zinadine Zidane. Skirmishes, protests, dismissals, walk-outs and even wars have occurred over football issues.

With the media getting better sight and vision, in modern times, umpiring decisions and refereeing blunders simmer as controversies. There was the hand-of-God play of Maradona as also his dismissal failing drug test. We had a similar hand-it-to-Ghana hand ball in this World Cup. But Ghana could not capitalise on the advantage they had.

Lampard’s (England-Germany) goal that should have been awarded and Tevez’s (Argentina-Mexico) offside goal which should not have been awarded are eczema-like embarrassments on the face of football. In a sports like football, where chances to score are few and scores can be very low for a win, such refereeing blunders could be costing the match for the disadvantaged team. Football dons are not even considering the options of the available Cairos goal-line and hawk eye technologies.

The goal-line technology involves fitting a microchip in the football and having a magnetic field around the goal. Signal receivers around the field track the ball and predict the exact moment the ball crosses the goal-line. The hawk-eye, on the other hand, employs cameras (mostly six) to record the happenings at more than 500-700 frames/second and the signal conveyance is within half a second! FIFA has ruled out any form of goal-line technology, but is inclined to have additional referees (read humans) to assist in decision-making.

A cynical viewpoint could be true... more men, more mistakes... The refereeing decisions of the last Australian Open Tennis championships are proof enough. With so many linesmen, there were glaring mistakes. In many cases, the replays showed the balls to be inches away from the lines when the balls were called in. Tennis has adopted the hawk eye, net sensor and such tech-aids to help in correcting/confirming decisions.

Cricket, the long drawn, boring game, has shaken off its inertia and adopted technology for many decisions. The leg before decisions (LBW), run outs, catches off the ground, no balls, boundary crosses, etc., are conveniently confirmed by slow motion replays. There are mike pick-ups and snick-o-meters to detect contact. Unlike football, in cricket, the opportunities for both the teams abound and in percentage fashion, one may say that a wrong decision might not influence the result of a match. Yet, the game has adopted technology for decision-making and the player and the viewer have got accustomed well to this.

In athletics, where microseconds differentiate the winner, technology is inevitable. Horse racing, formula car racing and basketball are sports which have adopted technology comfortably. In modern times, sports people train with technology (equipment/analysis) and sports goods are made superior with technology. This elevates levels of competition also.

From wooden rackets to aluminium rackets... From graphite to titanium golf clubs... Luxoril, a synthetic fibre, has changed the loads on the tennis strings. The biting top spins of Nadal and flashing backhand angles of Federer are possible only due to this. Technology has not only touched us... It has embraced and engulfed us.

Another viewpoint is that machine interference will weaken the power that humans hold over the game and its players. Such fears have always existed. The Luddites destroyed the powerlooms of the industrial revolution era fearing they would replace humans. Remember, our nationalised bank employees feared the same thing and went on strike because computers were to be introduced in banking? Today, they blame the same computers to stop work - “System down, wait and moan”.

The neo-Luddites have some rational queries. Have computers and Internet made us really better? Do we have to necessarily reject traditional beliefs and faith for lack of proof as defined by modern science?

Can machines really take over all human functions and make humans look like senseless creatures? Can’t we have a moderate use of technology in sports? Will it kill the romance of a sport? Will it spoil the suspense resulting from the fallible human nature?

I rang up Rangarajan, a cricket fanatic and a computer engineer from Triplicane. He said, “Football must have camera, saar. Machines cannot control us, saar. After all, when a man switches on the machine, then only it works. Man made the machine, saar... Machines can only make masala dosai. But the secret recipe of maavu (flour) and masala still belongs to mami, saar...”

Aug 09, 2010
More Of Things Big and Small

Rajoo Balaji

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