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Let’s watch it again: Should instant replays be used in sports?

By Elad De Piccioto
 Jonathan Daniel / Stringer
*Updated 2023
The debate over the use of replays is common to all sports. Although controversies and referee-related mistakes have always been part of sports, fans will agree that games, whether professional or not, would be better off without human error. That’s where replays come in. However, the use of replays makes games longer and less continuous, and therefore fans don’t seem to like them.
So, what’s the better option? Here are three arguments for the use of replays in professional sports, and three arguments against it.


Argument against Replays


They ruin sports’ historical moments

No matter the sport, games often get condensed into one particular moment. While the final score is determined as a result of an entire game, there is always one defining moment during a particular game. Moreover, sometimes that defining moment is the final play, which also determines the winner of the game. Think about the greatest sports’ moments you’ve seen or personally experienced. Now, imagine that those moments were subjected to replays. Puff, that initial magic is gone. Dissecting or questioning these special real-time moments in replays means ruining them for fans.


Imperfections make perfection

Sports are one of those rare things in life where perfection isn’t necessary. The imperfections in sports is what makes them so entertaining; it`s what allows teams to score against others; it`s what allows the underdog to win; it`s what amazes us over and over again. Mistakes are part of a game`s lore. It`s unreasonable to ask for perfection in sports. Referees, like players, are humans who make mistakes, and that`s part of what makes sports so entertaining and, sometimes, even relatable.


They won’t eliminate controversies but will create new ones

Using more replays won’t eliminate controversies from sports, rather they will simply make the controversies different. No matter the sport, replays are not needed for most calls, especially the ones that referees can make easily based on what they saw. Instant replays are needed during questionable incidents when the call is not obvious. However, even in those cases, replays are not necessarily helpful. For example, in “the Tuck Rule game,” even after reviewing the incident, officials made the wrong call (after making the right one on the football field…). Replays won’t suddenly make games any fairer.


Arguments for Replays


Technology is the way forward

Technology has taken over and transformed innumerable aspects of our lives. For example, 80% of the US workforce will have at least 10% of their tasks affected by AI. Using replays in sports is just another aspect in which technology is changing older methods to make things better. In fact, technological developments in sports have exploded in recent years, improving player`s abilities. It`s only natural that the latest technology leap will also increase the use of replays, enhancing the accuracy of referee calls. It`s the natural evolution of sports. Replays are here to make games fairer, and they should be embraced.


It’s the right thing to do

Choosing between longer games with no referee mistakes or shorter games with controversies and referee mistakes is easy; it has to be the first option, simply because it`s fairer. Professional teams, players and coaches work hard all season (and pre-season) and don’t deserve to be sent home over one bad call. The damage caused by extending sports games by a few minutes is relatively small compared to the damage when a game or even a season is decided over a bad call. Thus, implementing replays is the right thing to do.


They won’t make sports substantially slower.

There are countless ways to prevent replays from substantially slowing down games. For instance, replay use can be limited solely to cases which significantly affect match score. Leagues can limit the time allowed for referees to make a decision based on replays, or limit the number of challenges a team is allowed to have during a game. Moreover, technology might be ahead of us. It`s possible that while you’re reading these lines, there are new technologies available that can provide referees with the right call through the use of replays, before they even ask for it. It`s realistic to believe that, soon enough, technology will shorten the time needed to make a decision using replays. Whether through technology use or through limitations set by various professional sports leagues, the use of replays won’t slow sports games substantially.


The Bottom Line: Using replays in sports offers both advantages and disadvantages. They can eliminate referee mistakes but can cause other controversies. Do you think they enhance sports or take away some of the magic?

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