By RAVI AGARWAL, ’14
You’re sitting in the final round of the 2036 U.S. Open, watching a match between Roger Federer Jr. and someone with a less glorified name. The excitement exudes from an eager crowd, as the fans buzz with their predictions of who will win. The game begins with Federer Jr.’s service, and to no one’s surprise, he delivers an ace. Cheers, shouts, and jeers go all around, but thirty seconds later, you realize no call was made. Federer Jr. stands, waiting for the call. Your eyes dot around, searching for an umpire who apparently does not exist because this is the first year that the USTA decided referees are not worth the money. Another thirty seconds later, an automated voice announces, “Fault!” It is painfully obvious to you and the crowd that this is going to be a long match. Two hours in, Federer Jr. does not agree with the verdict of the machinated umpire and throws his racket in anger, shouting incoherent insults into the open sky, only to accept that the call won’t change. Members of the crowd, who usually enjoy a good show of disdain, sit quietly even as the usual excitement guaranteed in an argument becomes absent. And this repeats.
After sitting through an exhaustive five hours, you’re finally driving home and thinking about Ivan Lendel, John McEnroe, and Billie Jean King, the champions forever engraved in the grassy lawns of tennis history. There is something off about your usual upbeat perception of the greats: was their success attributed to faulty refereeing? Where’s the equality between modern and old tennis champions when the judgment process has diverged? You think back to your father’s ranting about some decision in 2012, in an NFL game between the Seahawks and Packers that spurred on a huge movement for instant replay to “legitimize sports.” Looking back on that movement, you regret it ever took place because now every game in every sport is marred by long waiting periods, boring environments, and an intangible factor that seems to repel humans.
That’s right. An intangible factor you couldn’t quite understand. The referees, who were seen as symbols of faulty judgment, bias, and inconsistency now seem to be the missing piece of the puzzle — the component that makes any game human. A human game is prone to errors. A human game is not the model of precision. Opponents of referees claim that instant replay, while slow, leaves no room for argument of calls. Has our society become so cynical of human activity that we cannot accept our own calls? Have we become so reliant on technology to make every decision for us? Giving into instant replay is a sign of human weakness.
Proponents of instant replay fail to acknowledge that referees are the link between a sport’s past, present, and future. Referees have been an integral component since the beginning of any sport. While renouncing instant replay translates into potentially compromised calls, preserving the position of referees guarantees our personal connection with the sport itself, which should be run speedily and efficiently. In the end, referees should be here to stay.