Visual Literacy and Fair Play

Two recent events have stimulated animated discussion about the role video can and should play in officiating.

Thierry Henry’s handball in a World Cup Football qualifying game led to a FIFA disciplinary commission hearing.

The International Cricket Council will investigate the umpire decision review system after protests about decisions made in the fourth test match in South Africa.

These events have underscored for me that the essence of sport is in a state of flux and is so because of the mediated and constructed views offered by television broadcasts. The ICC proposes to meet with television broadcasters in March to discuss the standardisation of technology. Ian Chappell identified some of the issues about standardisation in his post. (See also this post and audio file from Harsha Bhogle.)

My view is that these incidents raise fundamental questions about sport and visual literacy. I note John Debes’ definition of  visual literacy as “a group of vision-competencies a human being can develop by seeing and at the same time having and integrating other sensory experiences.” Ari Santas and Lisa Eaker (2009) observe that:

… to be visually literate requires us to readjust our thinking habits and have another look—to review what we have viewed. Unfortunately, there is no ready made teaching strategy that guarantees progression from unsophisticated viewing to sophisticated viewing. … our propensity is to act habitually, and it is through habit that we navigate our social world. Consequently, habituation is not something educators can opt out of, but must make use of; but this is not to say that they should thereby succumb to the mind-numbing practices of manipulators. They must, instead, habituate their students into reflective and creative modes of thinking. Visually, this means learning how to look and getting into the habit of looking, at images with a critical eye. To educate for visual literacy, then, must include training but it is training that facilitates ready movement from habitual ways of seeing and thinking to creative ways of seeing and thinking, from distinguishing between what is in need of extensive reflection and what is best left to snap-judgment or intuition.

I believe the transformation of sport through television broadcast has habituated the viewer to a particular form of experience. This is transferred to the sports arena too where spectators and players now expect large screen images of performance. The emergence of sport as spectacle in the age of entertainment has transformed the structure of sport. The rich and high definition images created by television coverage have removed the intensity of observation needed to engage in real-time (synchronous) sport. In the home theatre environment sport has become an asynchronous relationship in which real-time events can be paused and caught up with. I am wondering if the cumulative effect of this mediated visual and aural experience is transforming our ability to learn and remember.

The dilemma for sport is that in order to appeal to audiences there is constant discussion about what constitutes a sport. The more sport negotiates away its ownership of time as an essential characteristic of participation the more mediated the experience of televised sport becomes. In cricket, for example, there is growing debate about the fate of 50 over game in the light of the success of 20 over competitions. The shortened forms of any game should offer wonderful opportunities to observe and process action in real time and facilitate the neural activity so important to participation.

Francisco Maruenda (2009) discussed a fundamental issue for the game of football:

… the human being and the technological media are both physically and technically incapable of detecting an offside position in real time, in zero milliseconds. The results of this study show that when the ball is passed, the human eye and brain and the technological media need some time to locate the at least four players who intervene in an offside position. When those players are located, time has passed and they are never in the original position, when the ball was passed. Football players are trained for speed and acceleration to change their geographical position in the field when the ball is passed. Therefore, we cannot refer to a human error when an offside position is misjudged. The human being and the technological media will never be capable of detecting an offside position in real time, in zero milliseconds. The key of the offside position is a physical problem: time.

Formal games include some means of arbitration. The future of sport could be to value the person as arbitrator rather than media as judge. Sport is essentially fallible and we should celebrate this fallibility. In the process we might enhance young people’s visual acuity in real time contexts and deliver some very important long term neural stimulation.

Perhaps we need to know more about striatal volume too as we use video as a learning medium for education spectators, players, coaches and referees.

Photo Credits

Mailliw Umpires

Gazzat Refereeeee

Kevin Katinas Superman

Breaking a Snow Jumping Record

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