“Beauty is truth, truth beauty…” How tech can solve the problem of bias in sports

Sep 19, 2022

Technology has long been a part of competitive sports. Think ‘hawkeye’ for tennis, the ‘Goal Decision System’ in football (greatly missed by the Germans in their world cup loss to England in ‘66) or photo-finish systems in athletics.

But there is one area which still relies almost entirely on human judgement – and therefore is open to bias and error. Although the kinder term would be ‘artistic interpretation’…

At this year’s Beijing winter Olympics, judges came under fire (from the competitors themselves) for a range of bizarre points decisions. Gold medalist snowboarder Max Parrot was credited with a full grab of his board even though broadcast replays showed him holding his knee instead. Team mate and bronze medalist Mark McMorris pointed out (with a certain amount of frustration) that a correct decision would have given him gold instead.

Similarly, comparisons of identical tricks (in this case a switch backside 1620, for those who like the details) saw 6 point differences for exactly the same execution – despite the fact that the panels awarding the points were made up of the same judges.

In this case we could be generous and say “oh well, human error” – but what about decisions where something more controversial is at play?

At the 2002 winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, it was alleged that the pairs’ figure skating competition had been fixed, with a French judge compromising scores in favour of the Russian team. Investigations occurred and a number of officials were suspended. The system was seen to be wide open to abuse and reforms were made, but scandals continue to occur to this day.

And the story is the same across all ‘artistic’ competition which require subjective analysis – diving, gymnastics, trampolining, freestyle skiing – they’ve all got high-profile examples of bad judgements resulting from bias (whether accidental or deliberate).

What if there was a better way?

Motion analysis is not entirely new to assessing sporting form – think high-end camera systems for analysing golf swings – but the tech has yet to go mainstream or make the crossover into international competition.

Which is a shame. The possibilities for reducing subjective bias are huge – imagine a diving competition where rotation, body position, and form could be objectively measured against an ideal standard. A real time analysis of excellence and achievement which was not subject to personal interpretation, but was measured against an internationally agreed standard of metrics. Judges can lie – numbers don’t.

The future of movement lies in measurement – as fabulously bearded English mathematician Lord Kelvin once remarked, “If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it”. Using a combination of hardware and AI, we now have the potential to analyse any activity where motion is key, providing objective analysis that can revolutionize training and competition.

Or just make bouncing on a trampoline more fun…

At Wrlds, we offer an end-to-end solution for measuring and interpreting movement, bringing a whole new level of engagement to activities we already know and love. From initial project assessment all the way to manufacturing, we are the go-to provider of cost effective motion analysis solutions, with the expertise to make your products truly come to life.