Local boxing goes hi-tech with SuperSport

In a first for South Africa, SuperSport recently trialled a boxing version of the television match official to assist the referee.

During last weekend’s Golden Gloves tournament at Emperors Palace, a monitor was set up for a video referee, who was seated alongside the fight supervisor.

This was to allow the second official to determine official knockdowns – as opposed to a slip – plus low blows, accidental head butts and foul play. This finding would then be communicated to the referee to make an official ruling.

The intention is to do so during the one-minute intervals between rounds, although a time-out may be trialled in future for a more immediate decision.

Although the technology wasn’t required during the event, Boxing SA was happy to trial it with senior official Dr Peter Ngatane, who also represents the World Boxing Council, open to the idea of local boxing embracing technology.

BSA’s Dr Peter Ngatane.

Interestingly, such technology has been used sporadically overseas. The New Jersey State Athletic Control Board tried it and three years ago there was confirmation that it would be used in WBC, WBA and IBF championship bouts. As this is at the discretion of international boxing organisations, local controlling bodies, the promoter and television, who must all support the protocols, it has been used only rarely.

“The intention is to get rid of decisions the fans find so frustrating,” explained Sean Everett, SuperSport’s award-winning executive producer of boxing. “No-one can blame the referee, who is often unsighted and may miss something and yet is expected to make a split-second ruling. It’s time boxing caught up with technology.”

Indeed, most major sports incorporate technology into decision-making, including soccer, rugby and cricket. Rather than undermine officials, the referrals often add to the thrill of the contest, especially when fans also get to take a second look.

Boxing regulations stipulate that the referee is the sole arbiter of what occurs in the ring, although the plan in South Africa allows for the referee to refer to the video ref, who can communicate – but only with the consent of the fight supervisor.

As was the case last weekend, the referee would be mic’d up and have communication with the television producer to request a replay.