Does Boxing Need A Video Referee?

02/12/2016 12:55

The notion of using technology to aid referees in their decision making actually appears to have first originated in Canada before making its way into the American sports. When Channel 4 brought American Football to UK screens in the eighties, British audiences got their first taste of the use of videos to review decisions made on a field of play.

Cricket was the first sport this side of the Atlantic to use video reviews when it was introduced for the checking of run outs and stumpings in the nineties. Now we have the full "decision review system" (DRS) that encapsulates various techniques that can capture the tiniest of evidence of ball hitting bat or its trajectory clipping the leg stump or not. The pace at which cricket is played is more conducive to stopping to check that decisions are correct without unduly affecting the flow of the game.

Rugby League was probably the first sport played at high intensity and the one that I believe coined the phrase "video referee". Referrals could only be made over acts of scoring points and, even though it is nearly twenty years since it was first used, it has not done away with controversy. Whilst agreement is not universal, the general consensus is that video technology has helped decision making overall.

Whilst association football has been resistant to its use, a large number of sports now make use of video officiating. So why not boxing?

Back in 2013, we had the unedifying sight of referee Howard Foster being escorted by security through a baying crowd for having the temerity to decide that George Groves needing protecting. The British Boxing Board of Control publicly backed their man but most external observers were in agreement that the stoppage was premature. However, most external observers had the benefit of multiple television angles and a view that was not in close proximity to the fighters. Boxing referees are the third man in the ring charged with the unenviable task of looking after two fighters. They make decision on what they see but, one might argue that they would actually benefit from another pair of eyes, television screens and an ear piece.

Whilst part of my argument comes with avoiding stoppages that come either too early or, potentially disastrously, too late it could also help the referees in enforcing the rules. A video referee could advise the man in the ring about illegal tactics that were being missed or whether a knockdown was legitimate or merely a fall. They could also look at the changing demeanor of the boxer as the fight goes on for any evidence that they are struggling. Having someone with the benefit of a backseat may help the referee to be more confident in decisions to stop contests or allow them to go on.

Criticizing referees is one of the easiest jobs in the world. There are various quotes by Theodore Roosevelt that could be applied to refereeing, most concerning other people's inability to be brave enough to make decisions. Association football referees have to put up with people ringing radio phone ins or posting online their disgust at a split second decision they made in a game. Boxing referees understand that their responsibility is greater than that, it is the health of the boxers. Surely anything that can be done to help them in their decision making is worth considering. Boxing is not short of cash and one might suggest that an extra official that has been seen in other sports might help make the sport cleaner and, potentially, safer.