Hawk-Eye, the UK company that was acquired by Sony back in 2011, has become an integral part of some of the world’s most prominent sporting events. Perhaps best known for its use at Wimbledon and in the English Premier League, Hawk-Eye has helped umpires and referees diffuse potentially difficult situations with relative ease.
A complex piece of software, Hawk-Eye tracks the visual trajectory of a ball to determine where it’s landed, or in the case of cricket, where the ball would have landed had it completed its path, essential when calling ‘leg before wicket’ violations.
Hawk-Eye is also used to help broadcasters, with its visual representations used to create insights on player tactics. In tennis for example, Hawk-Eye maps whereabouts individual players are serving, whilst also providing a heat map which determines a player’s movement on court.
In the English Premier League, the technology is used to determine whether a contentious goal-line decision has been made correctly, with it first being successfully used in a match between Chelsea and Hull City. Hawk-Eye have also created a number of football simulators, which have been used to give fans an opportunity to ‘virtually test their skill and nerve’.
In football for example, referees still hold a great deal of power, with fouls, cards and offsides still up to their discretion. However, in other sports like Cricket, umpire powers have been eroded with the implementation of systems like Hawk-Eye.
Tennis has been highly affected by Hawk-Eye and sports technology in general. When players used wooden rackets they couldn’t generate anywhere near the same amount of spin, with it estimated that the average player generates five times more spin than their counterparts in the 1970s. For example, Rafael Nadal’s forehand generates 3330 RPM, a level which wouldn’t have been possible with wooden racquets due to their narrower head.
What this means is that whereas players in the 1970s could see the ball quite clearly when it left their racket, nowadays, and especially at Wimbledon where the colour of the court clashes with the tennis balls, players can’t rely on their own judgement to determine when they’ve put a ball out. Before Hawk-Eye passed ITF testing in 2006, dubious calls created animosity between umpire and player and disrupted the rhythm of the game, even causing players to implode due to frustration.
Ironically, those against Hawk-Eye often outline the loss of these on-court debates as a major disadvantage against line technology in sport, stating that it takes away the human side of the game, creating emotionless on-court robots like Roger Federer whose actions are in stark contrast to John McEnroe.
The added faith that Hawk-Eye has installed in tennis players has arguably meant that they go for the lines more often, confident that a true winner won’t be chalked off by an incorrect call. Retired American tennis player James Blake sums this up well, ‘I don’t need to go to bed now wondering if that serve was really in or out. I looked up. It was in’.
Hawk-Eye isn’t an exact science however, with a margin of error of 3.6 mm. This will improve over time as the software develops, but at the moment it would be incorrect to call the system completely unflappable. But with umpires getting their calls wrong 3 out of 10 times at Wimbledon in 2012 according to Hawk-Eye, there’s considerable evidence to suggest that Hawk-Eye is having a positive effect on tennis.
We often hear the phrase that sport is all about ‘fine margins’ and with this in mind, utilizing technology in elite sport encourages the game to be played in fairer and more gracious manner. It’s undeniably
positive that football has finally implemented goal line technology and its continued use in Tennis, Cricket, Baseball and Snooker demonstrates how the public and players have taken to the extra dimension it adds to officiating and broadcasting. Hawk-Eye is a great addition to elite sport and acts as security for players and umpires and allows the public to watch sport that isn’t hindered by incorrect decisions.