If sport is to retain its human face, technology has to be reined in

When those two words are flashed on the big screen, especially during a passage of play that is ludicrously equated to death, the reactions from viewers may be starkly contrasting. Depending on which your favourite side in the Indian Premier League is, it is either a walk-to-the-gallows moment, or an instant of thrilling optimism.

But to me, that is one of the worst moments in a cricket match, an egregiously rude interruption of the natural rhythm of the game. I feel as if an orchestra conductor has been knocked over at a critical moment and the opera hall has fallen shockingly silent.

While the shortest form of cricket has become technology’s willing slave — there is something of the Stockholm Syndrome there — this is perhaps only the start. In a few decades, we may no longer be able to recognise certain forms of sport as sport.

Today, video replays have rendered good old memory redundant. PowerPoint presentations have replaced the relaxed few hours spent by coaches and players in joyful camaraderie over a mug of beer.

There are replays and replays and replays, but ironically a few weeks down the road you don’t remember a thing that you have watched. This is largely because what is deemed a life-or-death matter at the moment it occurred is actually something relatively insignificant.

Then again, the point here is not how important sport is in a person’s life or in our collective consciousness. It is about our utter unwillingness to accept it as an all-too-human activity.

We don’t seem to want accommodate any kind of human errors — especially when it comes to officiating — in sport. Can umpiring ever become ‘perfect’ with the aid of modern technology, even if perfection gets to be defined objectively? The Decision Review System has its flaws and Hawk Eye in tennis and football has its own detractors.

Can a computer-generated simulacrum of an umpire ever be called an umpire; can a robot, even if technology does reach the point of Singularity, ever be human?

If we want to stay in touch with the very essence of sport, technology has to be consumed judiciously rather than avariciously. Otherwise we will reach a point where technology will consume our souls rapaciously.

The very system that produced us — Evolution through Natural Selection — is not flawless. It is a trial-and-error system, as the great Charles Darwin himself pointed out.

If life itself is uncertain, why do we expect sport to be full of certainties? Was that ‘certainly’ a case of someone being plumb in front? Oh, come on.

Nobody can say, in this day and age, that the meaning of sport does not lie in winning but in merely taking part. That is old Victorian era hogwash.

But what needs to be emphasised is that complete dependence on technology can at some point carry sport to a terrain where it does not lend itself to sublime subjective experience when we watch it. And this is scary.

For, there are times when technology provides the illusion of fairness. But it is an illusion. Life is inherently unfair. If you are among those reading this column, then you many not have experienced its unfair nature often enough. But we are among the lucky ones in life’s lottery.

A great part of the human condition has to do with our capacity to live with doubts and uncertainties. And if sport is to retain its human face, then technology has to be reined in.

And this is not a Greens plea to go back and live in harmony with Nature. Instead, what we need to do is to pick and choose technology to our own advantage. Life and sport are about mistakes — and our tireless efforts to help eliminate them. But this should be done with great care, particularly in an area of activity such as sport.

We are vulnerable to visual stimuli. And 24x7 TV sport has turned a lively, entertaining yet human activity into something that is almost superhuman — all this with great help from technology.

For all your YouTube moments involving a Tendulkar or a Messi, just imagine a 17-year old Brazilian audaciously lobbing over a defender and then finishing with an acrobatic volley against Sweden in the 1958 World Cup final? Pele did not perform in the digital era but that takes nothing away from his genius.

Sports barons say that there is too much at stake to not employ technology to fix everything. But we are not talking about rising sea levels, are we?

In medicine and poverty-alleviation, in AIDS-cure and cancer-cure, in coming up with a model of a sustainable ecosystem to deal with climate change, technology might be a great boon. In sport, it may be a little over-valued. But that is because sport itself is outrageously over-valued today.


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