The ‘sweet tension of uncertainty’ #wrwc

There has been much discussion in the philosophy of sport about what makes a ‘good game’ and the conclusion seems to be best expressed by Sigmund Loland who uses the phrase ‘the sweet tension of uncertainty of outcome’ (p149, Fair Play in Sport).

Essentially, this means that ‘good games’ are those in which the result is always in doubt; the higher the level of doubt, the greater the anticipation of a ‘good game’. It perhaps is also a psychological reason why we (as non-partisan observers) root for the ‘underdog’; we want to convince ourselves that we will see a game where we simply don’t know what will happen. At the very least, it makes life more interesting.

And so on day 2 of the Women’s Rugby World Cup, I’m once again hoping that there really is the ‘sweet tension of uncertainty of outcome’; I don’t want New Zealand to walk over Australia, and I’d like to see Kazakhstan shake England up a bit. It’ll take just one match going against the odds to put the question of doubt in everyone’s minds about all the other matches; the whole tournament will take on a different perspective.

And when nothing is certain, the tension will taste all the sweeter.

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5 ways to follow the Women’s Rugby World Cup

  1. Watch the matches live at the venues: All the pool matches are at the Surrey Sports Park. The semi-finals and the finals are at the Twickenham Stoop. Match tickets can be bought here.
  2. Watch the matches live on television and the internet: Thirteen matches are being shown on Sky Sports. For those of you that don’t have access to Sky Sports or are abroad you can watch the games here.
  3. Get the latest news and results from the official IRB website.
  4. Read the articles on ScrumQueens website: this has by far the most in-depth coverage of the tournament.
  5. Search for #wrwc on Twitter: this way you can keep up with all the comments, thoughts and general banter made by the masses.

Why I am excited about the Women’s Rugby World Cup

The women’s rugby world cup will start on Friday and I can’t wait. The anticipation I feel is almost too much to bear. Why? It’s not because I’m particularly patriotic and look forward to lauding England’s superiority in a post-colonial world, as I’m secretly hoping for an upset in the pool stages – maybe Sweden or Kazakhstan will pull off the surprise of the tournament. It’s not that I am desperate to watch some high quality rugby, although for the sake of the game itself I hope the games are compelling on account of the skill level. It’s not even because it is out of term time and I need something to occupy my attention; if only that were true. The reason I am counting down the days, hours and minutes is that I’ve become involved in the women’s rugby world cup narrative.

What I mean by this is that I’ve been following the ‘tweets’, watching the youtube videos, reading the articles on various websites and news outlets, and I’ve found myself starting to care about the characters and the developing story-lines. I’ve become emotionally engaged in it because the characters have been unfolding and it has started to mean something to me; I want to know what happens next.

This is where the media play a hugely important role in women’s sport. Too often the excuse for not reporting women’s sport (perhaps tennis and athletics excepting) is that no-one is interested. The trouble is, that people don’t get interested in things unless they know about them and become involved in the background stories and narratives. As I’ve commented elsewhere, this is where the BBC (in it’s capacity as a public service) has a moral obligation. They need to recognise that engagement only begins after exposure. (Actually, the BBC know this full well otherwise they would never ‘trailer’ anything – how often have you seen the trailer for BBC online news on the television?!)

The reason that so many non-football fans watch the men’s world cup, or that we end up watching some obscure Olympic sport is wholly down to subtle (or non so subtle) manipulation and exposure via television, radio and the web for months beforehand. Once the mainstream media start to do this with women’s sport, then the interest and enthusiasm generated will snowball.

This is what has happened to me and my thirst for the women’s rugby world cup over the last few months in this new age of social media. I’ve become engaged, involved and I want more…

Are there any good arguments against using goal-line technology in football?

Yesterday I wrote a post for the Philosophy and Sport blog about Sepp Blatter’s apology following Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal in the World Cup. This is despite the strong rejection by FIFA to implement goal-line technology only months before. This rejection comprises of the following seven reasons:

  1. So that the game is the same whether it is played by kids in a local park or whether it is on the international stage.
  2. Even with technology, humans have to make the final decision which could still prove controversial and therefore wouldn’t solve any problems.
  3. Fans like to have a debate over the controversial decisions.
  4. It will undermine the quality of the referees (as they would be able to abdicate responsibility for making correct decisions)
  5. The technology is too expensive
  6. Testing the effectiveness of the technology and deciding which technology to use is expensive
  7. The dynamics and rhythm of the game: a scoring counter-attack could no longer happen if play was stopped to for a replay of events.

All of these reasons seem to be bad ones; either inconsistent with other facts or based on flawed logic. I will deal with each of them in turn.

1. That the game should be the same where-ever it is played.

    • Presumably this reason is only related to ‘official’ games and not a kick around in the park with one goal made of jumpers, seven players and no referee.
    • If it is only related to ‘official’ games then there are still disparities between the quality of the pitch, the quality of the ball, the quality of the referee and whether there are any line-judges at all. Games played on the Downs in a Sunday league are not going to be standardized to games played in the World Cup despite the best intentions of Sepp Blatter and his FIFA colleagues.

2. Implementing the technology would be pointless as it wouldn’t solve the problem of human error.

    • This argument is ridiculously flawed and is equivalent to saying: installing burglar alarms will never completely stop burglaries happening so there’s no point in installing them in the first place. Just because crime prevention measures won’t stop all crime, it doesn’t mean that it won’t reduce crime. In the same vein, even though there will on occasion still be difficult judgements to make, such technology will make (obviously) bad decisions less likely.

3. Fans like to debate controversial decisions after the event.

    • For some reason, this is the one that most of my students give when I set them an exam question on this topic.
    • Yes, one of the compelling aspects of sport is the reflection on games but arguably this is a question of justice. As anyone who has been subject to frequently bad or biased decisions during a match knows, it gets damned frustrating and demoralising. One of the fundamental values of sport is that it is supposed to be conducted on a ‘level playing field’ where all things are equal except the skill of the individual players.
    • This is all the more true when it is isn’t just about the game itself but has other consequences on business, finance and the future prospect of individual players.
    • To say that it enlivens the pub conversation after the match is just a cop-out.

4. Undermining the quality of referees.

    • The argument goes something like: if we use this technology, referees will not have to make difficult decisions and therefore the standard of the referees will inevitably be reduced.
    • First, this argument is inconsistent with the one they give in reason 2 where they maintain that difficult decisions will still have to be made despite the use of technology.
    • Second, why implementing goal-line technology would lead to a reduction in the overall standard of the referee is not clear. Are FIFA supposing that referees will just become lazy and leave all debatable decisions to the fourth official? This one was one of the fears that surrounded the use of Hawkeye by cricket umpires: in that it would reduce the umpire to the status of counting men and coat stands (incidentally, their original status at the origins of the game). But such a worry proved to be unfounded as umpires see the technology as an assistance to making their decisions and are not as a way to undermine their authority and judgement.

5. The expense of implementing the technology.

    • This reason seems incredulous considering football is the richest sport in the world and when it is used by other (less financially viable) sports that haven’t gone bankrupt. If players are being paid multi-million pounds per year and clubs are worth billions, it isn’t even worth giving word space to this argument. If FIFA are putting profits before sporting justice then it indicates what kind of moral authority it is.

6. The expense of testing the technology.

    • I repeat my comments for point 5.
    • Arguably, the expense for testing the equipment would have been much greater for those sports that first implemented it, such as American Football and Tennis. As FIFA would be the last in a long list of sports to use it, it wouldn’t be too difficult or expensive to review the way this technology has been effectively used in other sports.

7. It would disrupt the flow of the game.

    • This, to me, appears to be the most reasonable of reasons that FIFA gives for not implementing the technology. One could imagine a situation where it isn’t clear whether a goal has occurred, play stops, the referee goes to the fourth official who judges that it wasn’t a goal and then play restarts from a goal kick. However, had play continued from the first shot at goal, a counter attack could have taken place and a goal could have been scored at the other end. Well yes, this could have been a possibility but the game is full of ‘what-ifs’. ‘What if’ the ball hadn’t been kicked off the pitch for the player down injured? ‘What if’ the referee had given a yellow card as well as a free-kick? ‘What if’ one the players hadn’t come down with food poisoning?
    • The game wouldn’t have to be stopped straight away anyway. Let’s use an imaginary Lampard example. Lampard strikes, the ball appears to go over the line but no official has seen it. Play goes on, the Germans counter-attack and score at the other end. At this point the game has stopped anyway. The referee then consults with the fourth official who looks at the replay and awards Lampard’s goal. Play resumes from the centre sport and justice is done.
    • Would it really disrupt the game unduly to use technology in this way? I doubt it.

These are my responses to FIFA’s reasons. All of them can be dismissed and therefore there seems to be no good argument against the use of goal-line technology in football. Anyone disagree? Comments welcome.