Editorial: Sports rules aren't made to be broken

Mitchell Marsh of Australia waits as the umpires watches a replay with Brendon McCullum of the Black Caps. Photo / Getty Images
Mitchell Marsh of Australia waits as the umpires watches a replay with Brendon McCullum of the Black Caps. Photo / Getty Images

Sport is often a model for life, never more so when it comes to fair play and enforcement of the law.

Should an Australian batsman have shown his ire when given out to a catch off his foot in the one-day international in Hamilton on Monday?

Television replays clearly showed he had played the ball on to his foot. But should television even have been needed? The pain in his toes would have told Mitchell Marsh exactly what had happened.

But then, without television the crowd would not have seen what had happened. Nor would the New Zealand players, whose uncertain appeal had been ignored until the replay on the big screen prompted captain Brendon McCullum to suggest the umpires reconsider.

Television and digital technology have brought a new dimension to sport, just as they have to life. Mistakes and misdemeanours that would have passed unnoticed previously can be cruelly exposed by camera footage, especially now that technology has put a video camera in mobile phones.

Nothing that happens in public is safe from wide circulation. It is not just celebrities who stand to suffer more than ever if they behave badly. Anyone acting stupidly enough anywhere is liable to be the subject of worldwide attention.

The question is, will this level of surveillance make us behave any better? The examples from sport so far suggest that it will not.

Marsh and his fellow batsmen seemed aggrieved that he had been given out in a delayed decision on a technicality that would have been indeterminable previously. It appeared they thought it unsporting of their opponents to press the point with the umpires.

All sports have their idiosyncrasies when it comes to rule enforcement. No batsman in cricket these days "walks" when only they know for certain they have snicked a ball that has been caught behind.

Yet when a batsman in the recent Junior World Cup left his crease at the bowler's end too soon and the bowler took the bails off, some said it was against the spirit of the game.

Tennis players appear to have the same attitude to foot faults on serve. If they are called on it they look aggrieved, as though the players' code does not consider the rule important.

Modern technology has exposed plenty of human errors in tennis, though it would be interesting to know the percentage of challenges that go the players' way. Statistics would probably show umpires more often right than wrong.

The camera's precision can make human judgment superfluous, especially in rugby when tries are scored (or not) in a melee on the line.

The interminable television search for a sight of the grounding of the ball can leave something to be said for the old referee's guess. Much in rugby still rides on penalties immune to review.

Ideally, sport would need less adjudication. Players know the rules and know when they have breached one of them. It's not life or death, not even profit or loss, it is just a game. But oddly sport seems to need more law enforcement than real life.

Most people most of the time operate on voluntary compliance with fair rules, honesty and trust. That should be true of sport.

- NZ Herald

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