IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 56

and international regulatory organizations, and indeed to
the formation of meta-organizations, such as the Court of
Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
The need for such organizations often follows because
socially-constructed rules are conventional rather than
physical. This means that unlike physical rules (e.g., gravity, second law of thermodynamics, etc.), conventional
rules can be broken. Breaking of conventional rules can
lead to many undesirable outcomes, like free riding and
cheating, which can ultimately destabilize the entire system. A key principle of Ostrom's sustainable institutions
was, therefore, monitoring of compliance with the rules,
either by the actors themselves, or by agencies appointed
by the actors. Not surprisingly then, at increasingly competitive levels of sporting endeavor, when winning may
take precedence over participation and sportspersonship,
that in order to maintain fairness, transparency, and
social order, the laws of the game are enforced by
appointed referees, judges, umpires, or arbiters.
However, for numerous reasons, it may be easier said
than done for a referee to maintain social order. Some reasons may be situational (the need to interpret events taking place at speeds at the limit of human perception and
capacity for rational judgement; the pressure of a volatile
and partisan crowd, etc.); but some may be institutional as
the laws themselves may be ambiguously expressed or
require an element of judgement and interpretation. For
example, in the sport of tennis, the linesmen/women have
to stand in the sun and judge immediately if a ball is "out"
(beyond a tramline), with the ball traveling in excess of
100 km/h (0.62 mi/h) and fractional distances. In the perhaps more esoteric sport of cricket, the Leg Before Wicket
(LBW)1 rule, has always been difficult to judge, as the decision depends not only on what did happen, but also on
the likelihood of what might have happened (i.e., would
the ball have hit the wicket if the batsman's leg had not
been an obstacle to its trajectory).
The offside rule in the sport of Association Soccer
(or Football) has caused plenty of conflicting arguments and contentious decisions, potentially with
hugely significant implications.2 This is due to both
the convoluted specification of the rule, the continual
guidance to referees on how to interpret the rule, the
requirement for referees to apply the rule in real time
(at high speeds, high stakes, etc.), and the ambiguous,
nonbinary state of "offside," i.e., it is possible to be in
an offside position, without necessarily causing an
offside offense.

1
Leg Before Wicket (LBW): A means of dismissing a batsman in cricket
whose intricacies to explain would require doubling the length of this
article.
2
In the 1954 World Cup Final between West Germany and Hungary, which
ended 3-2 in favor of the former, Ferenc Puskas was denied a late equalizer
by a controversial offside decision.

56

However, prior to the introduction of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR),3 the rule has been monitored entirely
by the naked eye, using a coordinated effort of two linesmen and a match referee. Although mostly considered to
be successful, VAR only offers support to human decision
makers. The objective of this article is to explore the following conditional statement: If firstly, technological
development advances sufficiently to facilitate the transition from decision-support to decision-making, and, second, if the decision defines the situation (i.e., if the
algorithm classifies a situation as X, then it is X), then
what are the implications of such algorithmic definition
for the realm of sport, and in more general fields of
human enterprise.

Technology in Sport
The impact caused by the introduction of technology
to sport in order to facilitate unequivocal decision
making has been witnessed in games such as cricket
and tennis. The use of the decision review system
(DRS) in the former amalgamates the implementation
of technologies such as Hawkeye, Snickometer,
Hotspot, and video umpiring, to provide an accurate
decision-making system, which assists the on-field
umpires in case of doubt.
In cricket, the Snickometer measures the amplitude
of the audio signal it receives from a sensitive microphone placed on the stumps at the wicket-keeper's end
when the ball makes contact with the bat [7]. Hotspot
technology makes use of infrared cameras to detect any
contact between bat and ball [8]. These technologies,
when combined appropriately, produce a sound system
capable of quality decision making that would have otherwise been impossible. However, this system has had
its shortcomings in certain situations. For example,
Hotspot's rare failure to detect a "thermal signature" on
the bat [9], the ambiguity introduced by "umpire's call"
in case of LBW decisions [10], and Snickometer being
unable to pickup an audio signal have resulted in a few
hiccups during crunch games. Despite these occasional
blips, the DRS is considered a successful innovation,
especially in eliminating blatantly wrong decisions.
In tennis, Hawkeye processes information derived from
multiple high-speed video cameras in order to compute
the trajectory of the ball [6]. This technology has been
deployed in many professional tournaments to the satisfaction of players and the paying crowd, without undermining the status of the match referee. This can be attributed
to the binary nature of its challenge system (either the ball
is "in" or "out"), its demonstrable correctness in distinguishing between the two, and the value added to the
3

Video Assistant Referee: An assistant referee in a television studio who
reviews potentially significant or contentious events using video footage,
and instructs the on-pitch match referee accordingly.

IEEE TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIETY MAGAZINE

∕

DECEMBER 2019



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