The Television Match Official – When is Enough, Enough?

TMO

Rugby’s continuous quest to ensure that the correct decision is always made in any given situation is commendable and most of us were probably 100% behind the inception of the Television Match Official (TMO) in order to rid the game of the obvious referee error or inability to be able to make a decision due to being unsighted.

What started out as a means to determine if a legitimate try had been scored by using television visuals to confirm that the ball was grounded in the in goal area or if the try scorer had stepped into touch started to grow into a much more integral part of the game at a rapid pace. Referees are now able to refer to the TMO on a number of issues, including forward passes and suspected foul play. The TMO has also been given additional powers and can intervene if he spots foul play on the field that the referee and his assistants had missed. Sometimes though, we get the feeling that referees abdicate their responsibilities too easily and refer far too much to the TMO.

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Recently, we have also seen some really strange decisions being made by TMO’s that cannot really be justified within the rules of the game, leading to the TMO’s often being labelled as the Terrible Match Official. The appointment of the TMO is also disappointing as many of them were generally not the best referees when they were still active and given some of the decisions made – nothing has changed on that front. We have yet to see the likes of a Jonathan Kaplan or Derek Bevan taking on the TMO responsibilities.

Not many would argue against the use of the TMO to ensure that no clear and obvious error had been made on the field and therein lays the conundrum…. We are starting to hear of dissatisfaction from the general viewing public about the length of time it takes to make a decision. Players and coaches are also alluding to the fact that the excessive use of the TMO also disrupts the flow of the game. It won’t be too long before a major broadcaster faces a problem when broadcasting a double header and the first game is not concluded before the kick off of the second game due to TMO delays. A stadium announcer in the 2013/2014 Aviva Premiership light heartedly informed the crowd that the 17h15 train to London had been delayed to accommodate the late conclusion of the game they were watching.

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One particular phrase, used by referees and TMO’s alike, grabs our attention though. Clear and obvious… How many times does a TMO have to view a pass to determine if it was forward or not? Surely if the TMO has viewed something from four different camera angles three different times and is still uncertain, we have gone past the realm of clear and obvious? We can respect the fact that the TMO does not want to be exposed after the event once the broadcaster has analysed the decision with a compass and protractor, but is it in the interests of the game to stop the world for extended periods whilst the TMO agonises over a decision? The balance just doesn’t seem right…

Another aspect of the TMO process which we find a touch baffling is the use of slow motion replays in determining if a player had used a double movement in the act of scoring a try. Surely slow motion by its nature distorts the perception of momentum flow?

The good news, hopefully, is that it has been confirmed that Paul Hawkins, the founder of technology company Hawkeye, has been in negotiation with the IRB and English Premiership with a view to trialling Hawkeye technology during next season’s Aviva Premiership and if successful at the 2015 Rugby World Cup. The main stumbling block to this happening though is going to be cost. Currently, the only cost attached to the TMO is the official himself as he views currently existing visual feeds. Hawkeye relies on the triangulation of a number of high performance cameras, which would be additional to the television feed.

If this indeed does come to fruition it would be a blessing though. The role of the TMO would probably still be needed in terms of foul play, but all line calls and ball trajectory calls will be available within seconds and most importantly, accurately.

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