Monday, 8 August 2016

Rainbow Umpires - Crowdsourcing Improved AFL Umpires

Rainbow Umpires app
This AFL season to date some kind friends and neighbours have allowed my wife and I the use of season tickets for two of our local AFL sides. There have been 8 games so far and in 6 of them runs of 2 or 3 exceedingly poor umpiring decisions during the first 2 quarters have ruined the games for spectators. Our local sides are weak and would undoubtedly lost the games overall. But the bad decisions of the umpires handed the momentum unfairly to the opposing side killing the chance of a much closer game, and leaving the spectators short-changed.

Forty years ago I was an international squash referee and know what a difficult job it is as an official to follow the rules and maintain balance between the competing sides. But the AFL manages a huge sport that apart from the players needs the spectators to feel the rules are applied fairly in every game. After all it is the fans that make the AFL possible.

No doubt the AFL puts a great deal of effort into training umpires and arranging their professional development. Players have their tribunal to determine disciplinary action where needed, and the operation of the tribunal is transparent and public. With umpires able to have such potential devastating effect on the outcome of a game, where is their tribunal and how does that operate? It is a nonsense to suggest umpires are above criticism and any disciplinary action be hidden behind closed doors. There needs to be a mechanism whereby AFL spectators can provide feedback on umpire performance.

I am suggesting the spectator crowds be allowed to vote on the performance of umpires in real-time during the game. We need an easy way to identify the different umpires and I suggest they wear brightly coloured shirts in primary rainbow colours. It is easy to put an app like Rainbow Umpires on the mobile phones of spectators and allow them within 10 seconds of any decision to vote their support using simple up and down buttons. This data can easily be gathered in the cloud and a rating for each umpire displayed in real time. Spectators at the ground and live TV viewers could participate. With many tens of thousands of live TV fans voting there will be no home-team advantage.

It is my experience that AFL fans on the whole are particularly fair-minded and accept adverse umpire decisions against their own side. Only on rare occasions do they become enraged at really bad decisions since poor decisions tend to balance out over the course of the game. However with close up TV coverage and also displayed to all via huge displays at the ground it is no longer the case that umpires have a better view of the play.

With the large amount of crowd reaction data available to them the AFL can publish league tables of umpires performance. Those with substandard performance can be 'reported' to a transparent umpiring 'tribunal' with disciplinary action involving retraining and further professional development. High performances could put umpires in line for an end-of-season 'Brownlow' medal equivalent. Note that the voting system potentially allows all umpires to achieve high scores.

Come on AFL it is time to use available technology to introduce a truly professional umpiring group honed by exposure to crowd feedback and a transparent tribunal. Bring the AFL fans more directly into the game.