Laurie Axtens - Call of the Loon

Technologys irksome embrace

Professional sport is going under the knife, again. There has always been the professional/amateur divide, but now there is pressure to slice open the professional ranks and create a divide between fringe professionals and perfect peak professionals.

The wedge, which is being forced between the ranks of professionals, is sharp with cutting edge technology and weighty with the madness of public opinion.

Most of the big sports business CEOs appreciate how recent technological innovations have changed how their game is perceived and they have embraced the new devices. The fault capturing cyclops and virtual line-calling hawkeye are now integral parts of all the major international tennis tournaments. Its a bums on seats issue and they know that they have to offer players and officials the techno option or their sport will lose credibility.

However, many professionals and some sports havent kept pace with the changing nature of their role as entertainers. In fact they are caught firmly on the horns of dilemma. Professionals are paid to win within the loose confines of the rules. Theyre not employed to be nice, to be charitable or to be honest. Part of being a winner is working out how to get a greater percentage of the close 50/50 decisions going their way. The most effective way to get the winning edge is to psychologically dominate the match officials. This often involves simulation, bullying, incessant pleas or appeals, and out and out toadying. These rather unpleasant behavioural traits, which disgust us in everyday life, are a positive boon for the professional.

A clever and measured use of these tactics gives fringe professionals a chance to make the big time; to strut it on the big stage in front of the big crowds, for squillions of dollars.

However, under the unsleeping eye of the cameras and ever-listening in-built microphones, their irksome tactics are on public display. After a lifetime perfecting their swaggering silverback persona, they are suddenly expected to turn into nice, polite and inscrutably honest individuals.

Now, thats doable if you happen to be one of the blessed greats, like Brian Lara or Roger Federer, but most professionals dont double as saints. They know that theyre only a couple of failures away from relegation and relative poverty. They need to win, and they need to do it without people noticing how they managed it.

At the moment most of the players have managers who manipulate their clients public persona, so that no one knows about their actual foibles. If you ask Ben Cousins, this has only offered very limited success. The cult of the sporting hero is under sustained attack. The levels of surveillance, both on and off the field, has never been more intense. In short, sport has become an endless reality TV show.

I can envisage a time when the big media outlets wont risk a drop in advertising revenue and will take over the role of selector. Can you imagine a venomous Tony Greig gleefully asking the TV audience to text tosser to 1800 666 666 to get Ricky Ponting tossed out of the captaincy.

The modern player and official is living on the the razors edge but theyve got to touch the sun; trying just wont do. Umpire Steve Bucknor got four decisions wrong over five days and lost his posting for the next Test. The Australians lost a series in England by two runs; they sacked two players. Thats how cut throat its become. That aside, we should not be using technology to judge players or officials if they cant access the same gadgetry to clarify, defend or justify their own actions. Its unjust. So its time for cricket to follow tennis. To allow appeals to the video umpire. Anything

to stop the witch hunt.


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