The Little League World Series will be using Instant Replay this year (MSNBC) , beating out Major League Baseball in adopting newer technology, although one can argue whether instant replay is new technology at all. Wimbledon’s Hawk-eye has been used to virtually recreate the flight pattern of the ball as it hits the landing area to determine line calls, although some computer scientists dispute the accuracy of the machine.
The goal to “get it right” runs through all sporting events. It is an issue of fairness, that winners and losers should be awarded based on the rules, and not by an umpire or referee who may be out of position to make the proper call. The perception of fairness is a very important one, and it isn’t any different from rules for accounting of corporate books.
Without proper measurement, we cannot compare. And because we need to compare, the uniformity of the rules and the application of such rules become quite important.
Only this past week, a NBA referee who admitted to making calls to impact the Las Vegas spread was sent to jail. The integrity of the entire sports will be placed in jeopardy if we can no longer trust those who pass judgment.
When we look around us, we see the massive write-offs within the financial sector, and few have questioned the integrity and accountability of those that pass such judgments—the ratings agencies, the public accounting firms, and the regulators. And fair questions can be asked whether these entities have not only the capability, but also the judgment to carry out their mission.
One of the earliest sports to incorporate instant replay was, believe it or not, sumo wrestling. In 1969, after a stunning loss by Grand Champion Taiho to Toda, a loss that stopped Taiho’s incredible 45 bout winning streak, television video replays revealed that Toda had actually stepped out of the ring before Taiho did. Within 2-months, the Japanese Sumo Federation agreed to begin using instant replay as an aide, but not final arbiter on disputed calls. (see Japanese Wikipedia)
But the system is also based on a very traditional honor system. The referee in the ring, called the Gyoji, must always make a call, even in close matches. If his call is reversed through Instant Replay or the other 5 ring-side judges, he will be given a penalty which could jeopardize his career. This is better than the old days. Each Gyoji carried a dagger with him into the ring, and if he made a bad call, he was supposed to commit suicide by slitting open his stomach on the spot.
The dagger still exists, but only as symbolism. It is a symbolism that I hope that referees and umpires will remember. But for those who are the protectors of our capital markets, maybe they should be asked to use the real thing from time to time, if only to remind them that real lives are impacted by the mistakes that they make.