Sunday, June 27, 2010

Technology and sport

This is a day of poor judgments in soccer. Both of the World Cup matches today involved goal-related bad calls. Would England or Mexico have won if the referees' decisions were correct? Probably not. But it was disheartening to see injustice breaking the equilibrium and ruining the chemistry in the teams.

England vs. Germany, 38th minute. A shot by England's Frank Lampard hit
the crossbar and bounced half a meter into the goal. But it was disallowed.

Argentina vs. Mexico, 26th minute. Argentina's Carlos Tevez scored the
first goal of the game on a play that appeared offside from all angles live.

It's not the first time blown calls have happened in soccer. Now-coach Maradona's "Hand of God" goal in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final against England is a classic. What really bothered me today was FIFA's long resistance to technology. Instant replays showed the world the truth but the referees could still deny and their decisions stood. Refs are human beings, and human beings make mistakes. But does that mean we just have to embrace human imperfection as part of the game? Why don't we do something about it?

The relationship between technology and sport makes me think of swimming. To me, the ban of "sharkskin" swimsuits makes sense because the whole point of a race is to challenge the limit of what the human body can do. "Sharkskin" technology enhances the body and the result is in principle no different from a genetically altered creature. But when it comes to the literally "technical" aspects such as judgment accuracy and hard evidence, technology should be encouraged. I remember in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Michael Phelps won the men's 100m butterfly gold by 1/100 of a second. There's no way bare eyes could tell this. If technology brings us precision and justice, why not?

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