Challenges create court confidence

Fort Lauderdale, Fla., October 6, 2015 - When he went to sleep Thursday night, Jose Casanova hit the bed with more than a little anxiety.

As the FIVB Beach Volleyball Refereeing Commissioner, he was preparing to oversee the video replay challenge system that was being implemented for the SWATCH FIVB World Tour Finals, and Casanova wasn’t quite certain how it would work.

“I was a bit nervous, like when you play the next day in the World Championships, like the game of your life,” Casanova said.

On Friday, Hawk-Eye swooped in and put Casanova’s mind at ease. Not only at ease, but ever more enthusiastic over how the replay system would enhance the sport in the months and years to come.

“In reality, my feeling during the three days we were running the test is we could see everything,” Casanova said. “The cameras were giving us everything.”

The new challenge system will cover five possible scenarios: Whether a shot is on or out, whether a player or ball hit the antenna on the net, whether or not a player touched the net, whether or not a player touched the ball (also to determine four contacts on a play), and foot faults.

Teams entered the match permitted to make two challenges per set, but no challenge would be deducted if it was successful.

The system was used for 17 matches over the final three days of the SWATCH FIVB World Tour Finals. Players requested 17 challenges in that span, and replays upheld officials’ decisions on 12 of the calls. The roughly 70-percent rate of upholding official’s calls is comparable to that of the rate on video challenges in the indoor version of the volleyball.

If a play was challenged, the replay official had 18 television broadcast cameras and 12 high-resolution Hawk-Eye cameras to rely on.

“If there’s one thing the challenge system showed me, it’s how strong our referees are - not just referees, but our line judges,” said FIVB Technical Supervisor Ed Drakich. “I feel much more confident in the system and our ability to get it right after this test.”

During the Florida tournament, the Hawk-Eye cameras showed black-and-white images. By the time the Rio 2016 Olympics roll around, the images will be in color, further enhancing the officials’ ability to make the right call.

What put their mind at ease was a call at match point in the men’s bronze medal match. Brazilian Evandro was serving and appeared to hit an ace, but was called for a foot fault. The Brazilians challenged, and the replay showed that Evandro did not contact the back line before he served. The images showed that the force of the sand as he jumped made the line move.

That contrasted to a set point during the semifinals at the FIVB World Championships, when a touched ball on a block was missed. Making it worse, the replay on the video board showed to all the fans that the wrong call had been made, but officials had no recourse but to go with the original call.

“It was a decisive call,” Casanova said of the overturned foot fault. “It showed the reliability of the system, the accuracy and how we can prevent a mistake to decide a match.”

“Even when balls were out by less than the width of a hair, we could tell the ball was out,” Drakich said of the technology. “Amazing.”

It helped convince the officials that Hawk-Eye is not only the eye in the sky the FIVB has been looking for, but that the Beach Volleyball world has its own talons clutched on the technology of the future.

“That play from the Worlds, and this play from the serve, how can we not go forward?” Drakich said. “We can’t go backward now. This is too good a system, too beneficial for us not to use at the most important times.”

The 17 weekend matches were a broad learning for Casanova, who did not wait for a challenge at any particular point. He reviewed every play, and when there was a challenge, he was finding himself coming to conclusions within seconds of seeing the replay.

There will, of course, need to be more testing and perhaps some more tinkering with the rules of engagement in the challenge system. 

At the same time, an overall sense of not only relief but genuine optimism for the future hit the officials. The players accepted the system, accepted, the decisions, and most importantly, didn’t have to waste time and energy pleading their case with the referee.

“It takes tension away from the refs and from the players,” Drakich said. “It’s a positive development.

“This is not a tool that works against the referees, it’s a tool that adds value to the work of the referees. There are aspects of the game that are really difficult as far the human eye’s perception of the situations. When the referee is unable to spot something, through the video challenge we can find the right solution and make the right decision.”


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