Hawk-Eye on trial


The furore generated by the malfunction of the Hawk-Eye score detection system in Croke Park last weekend came at a bad time for all concerned. The Gaelic Athletic Association has been trialling the technology since last June and it had been operating without incident. It is clearly untimely that uncertainty should arise over the reliability of the system just as the biggest matches of the season are taking place. For the company, the timing was worse. On the very weekend Limerick minor hurlers were deprived of a perfectly good score and went on to lose their match in extra time, Hawk-Eye was being rolled out in English soccer’s Premier League. Although there was no controversy reported from these matches, the Croke Park glitch made global news.

There is however a good argument that one of the problems facing Hawk-Eye is an inadequate grasp of the technologies involved. A 2008 paper “Public Understanding of Technology and Hawk-Eye” in the journal Public Understanding of Science by Harry Collins and Robert Evans makes the point that an imperfect understanding of the process involved makes some people believe for instance that the Hawk-Eye visual is an actual detail of the ball’s trajectory rather than a graphic representation. The GAA may be fortunate that Sunday’s error was so obviously the fault of a programming error by the operating company. Whereas the upset caused to Limerick has still to be resolved, the future of the system as a useful tool in Gaelic games officiating is more assured than if the error had been systematic.

It is undeniably true that the use of Hawk-Eye in tennis and cricket has not eliminated all controversy about line calls and leg before wicket decisions but it has undoubtedly improved the overall quality of those calls. Similarly, the GAA will be aware that despite the outcry created by the recent malfunction, use of the score detection system, whereas not infallible, represents a more reliable and quick means of resolving disputed scores than one exclusively based on human perception.