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How Digitalisation Helped with Complaint Handling in Sports?


From industry to industry, one by one, businesses have adapted to the modern age. Complaint handling is no exception when it comes to digitalisation.

However, it's not always so simple. Let's take sports as an example. Some sports came to existence out of the sheer passion of the working classes, others were created for the upper classes. Reasons ranged from providing a great way to let the tired people blow off some steam to enabling the aristocracy to enjoy their leisure time on the field.

Its purpose was always entertainment. But like for many other leisure activities (music, for example) as popularity grew, it became clear it could be a source of profit.

And when something is profitable, big players start investing in it. Each game needs an objective decision-maker. Thus In most sports, there are judges, umpires, who help players with regulating the game. These people, despite being top-class professionals, can also make a mistake every now and then.

One of the examples is the (in)famous Maradona's "Hand of God" goal, which robbed England of it's place in the FIFA 1986 quarterfinals. Back then, there was no goal-line or VAR technology available, so Argentina moved past England and eventually won the cup. There were many complaints, but all of them were futile.

Out of many such cases in tennis, perhaps one of the most bizarre was when Victoria Azarenka faced Caroline Wozniacki in Doha, 2015. It all started when a Wozniacki second serve rolled off the tape and landed a few inches out. But when what should have been ruled a double-fault (and would have given Azarenka set point) went uncalled and was ruled a let, Azarenka challenged, only to realise that Hawk-Eye evidence of the shot was not available. At that point, both Wozniacki and Azarenka stepped to the net to discuss, eventually having words and calling for the supervisor.

As technology improved, the fans, but also the investors, urged their international sports organisations to introduce newly developed systems that would reduce or even eliminate the chance of error. Complaints were piling up and dissatisfaction kept rising among those who found themselves in a bad spot due to human error.

So, after Paul Hawkins developed the Hawk-Eye system in 2001, it was put to a test at the tennis court. In 2006, The US Open announced they would make official use of the technology for the 2006 US Open where each player received two challenges per set. Australian Open followed in 2007, and one by one, all major tennis tournaments began relying heavily on the Hawk-Eye.

The result? Tennis players and fans get justice. Well, at least more often than they're used to. The system, however, is not flawless. The margin of error that Hawk-Eye has is around 3.6 mm, which is less than the minimum requirement of five mm put in place by the International Tennis Federation (ITF).

Football fans were not so lucky. VAR technology was introduced in 2016 and applied in the same year in the American MLS league. It came to UK's premier league in 2019. However, the problem with VAR is: the referee can choose to overrule its decision. So basically, despite VAR's precision being estimated at 92% to 96%, it's not autonomous in the ruling.

To conclude, both tennis and football complaints were dealt with, eventually. However, the reaction time of the tennis associations was far quicker. So, the time difference plays a major role in good complaint handling. Football fans suffered from poor reaction time.

These are great examples of how digitalisation changed the sports' world and how complaints were handled by the respective associations. But is that a good solution.

What's your opinion? Should digital tools be excluded from professional sports at the risk of having bad calls? Or should sports, like all other industries, prioritise the reduction of possible errors on the field?

How do you handle complaints in your business? If you believe you're doing good, we invite you to join our Complaint Handling Awards and compete with the creme de la creme. Become a champion to raise your brand image and get the recognition you deserve!

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