Cybernaut 

Sport tech

In a recent article in Wired News ( www.wired.com ) it was revealed that Major League Baseball is looking into a new technology that uses high speed cameras placed at different angles around home plate to keep track of strikes and balls. If the system proves its worth and is 100 per cent accurate, you may never see an outraged manager bump bellies with an umpire ever again. And I find that sad.

Human fallibility has always been a key part of sports, both for players and officials. Especially for officials.

Every game you can name has had a few blown calls, including some doozies that altered the course of history.

Take Brett Hull’s toe-in-the-crease goal to win the 1997 Stanley Cup in overtime. Take Rivaldo’s fake injury in the 2002 World Cup game against Turkey that got another player ejected. Take Paul Tracy’s disputed loss at this year’s Indy 500.

Going back a few years the list is even more impressive. How about the extra time that was put on the clock in the 1972 Olympic basketball game that gave the Soviet Union the gold medal against the U.S? The American players still refuse to claim their silver medals.

What about the 1996 American League Conference Semifinal when a 12-year old fan Yankee fan scooped a Derek Jeter ball out of the air just shy of the fence, and the official failed to call fan interference on the play? The Yank’s got a homer to tie the game, then went on to win the series.

Another doozy is the infamous "Hand of God" goal in the 1986 World Cup when Diego Maradona jumped up between two English defenders and punched the ball into the net. Argentina went on to win the World Cup that year.

Nothing riles up a sports fan like a blown call, especially if it works against their team. It’s even worse when they have money on the game.

But if every call was 100 per cent accurate through film reviews and new technologies like the one baseball is testing, would sports be nearly as much fun to play or watch? Would they even flow any more, or would they stop and start, lurching forward and then stalling like a new driver on an old clutch?

When I was taught the game of rugby, I was told "first you learn how to play, then you learn how to cheat." I’ve batted balls from the scrum half’s hands during goal-line scrums when the ref wasn’t looking. I’ve helped to lift taller players in the line-outs before that was allowed. I’ve pretended to go after balls that went out of bounds, buying my teammates some time to get to the line-outs. I’ve held onto other players’ jerseys to prevent them getting to the ball before I did. I’ve feigned injuries to get water for me and my teammates on hot days.

I’ve been punched before for my actions, and sometimes those punches have drawn penalties that my team could capitalize from.

Over the years I’ve learned that everybody cheats, everybody exaggerates, and everybody does their best to confuse and befuddle the referee. It’s part of the game, and for the most part the players accept it.

In baseball, players try to turn strikes into balls by pretending to dodge inside throws and by stepping away from outside throws like they weren’t even close.

In hockey, the best goalies are the ones that push their own nets off the posts, and push goals back over the line. The best defencemen are the guys that can interfere with such a subtle touch that they’re never caught. The best forwards always look on-side, and even take dives to draw penalties if they’re ever hooked from behind.

In basketball, I defy you to name one superstar who doesn’t regularly travel or palm the ball on their way to the hoop. And the hacking, my God the hacking.

In football, the guys on the line are always trying to psyche their opposite number into stepping off-side. Quarterbacks throw the ball to the sideline and through the endzone to stop the clock that are just close enough to one of their receivers to make it plausible – guys like Brett Favre have turned this into an art form.

I submit that using technology to officiate games will rob an athlete of his or her ability to cheat now and then, which is equally as human in nature as making the occasional bad call. Deprived of their ability to put on a performance for the fans, officials and the opposite team, the players might as well be robots.

Mr. Burns, the evil nuclear power plant owner on The Simpsons said it best – "I've always felt that there's far too much hysteria these days about so-called cheating… If you can take advantage of a situation in some way, it's your duty as an American to do it. Why should the race always go to the swift or the jumble to the quick-witted? Should they be allowed to win merely because of the gifts God gave them? Well, I say cheating is the gift man gives himself!"

http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,54339,00.html

You can find the Wired News article here.

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/olympics/news/2000/07/02/bodysuit_craze_ap/

This is an article about the ethical questions raised by the use of body suits in running, swimming and other sports.

http://www.tms.org/pubs/journals/JOM/9702/Froes-9702.html

This site provides a good overview of the different controversies over technologies in a wide range of sports.

http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,41428,00.html

Another Wired News article, this time on the topic of gene transferring and sports – cheating taken to the absolute limit.

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