THE LAWMAN: Technology and our sport 📺

by John Roberts

One of the fantastic innovations to our sport of recent times has been the concept of live broadcasting and livestreaming. Television, of course, has been streaming live broadcasts over the air and cable much longer than internet webcasting.

A live stream, especially a multicast, is accessible from only one point in the stream by all users at the same time. Facebook and YouTube allow you to livestream from your phone what is happening – now. At home you can watch the stream on your iPad, laptop or even cast or mirror it to your own television.

Livestreams work best to satisfy our curiosity about what is happening right now. COVID certainly highlighted the extent to which livestreaming can be of great benefit to us all. For the first time we were able to be at funerals, attend weddings or meetings locally, nationally, or internationally, without physically having to be in the same room.

Apps like Periscope, Livestream, StreamNow, Broadcast Me and Facebook Live make live streaming a relatively easy operation. And these apps work on both Apple and Android platforms.

An example of a club Championship game:

What do the Laws of the Sport have to say about livestreaming? Not a lot really.

However, the Bowls Australia Personal Electronic Devices Policy clearly states: The use of mobile phones/mp3players/iPods/iPads/pagers/radios, communication devices and/or other similar sound/communication devices on the green and immediate surrounds during play is not permitted.

A player cannot use their phone to livestream the action. A player cannot wear a GoPro or any action cameras on their caps. But I am sure that one day they will. I personally would look forward to seeing that vision. Or maybe the view from the marker of a singles game.

So why would The Lawman be concerned about livestreaming? Simple, it’s a warts and all view of our great game, and we need to make sure we are streaming to the World our best view and practices.

Remember everything that happens on the green, often both sounds and actions, can literally be viewed around the world and kept as a record. The eyes are on the players, the spectators, the officials, the club and surrounds. If you scratch an itch, frown, laugh, complete a measure, call a distance, or indicate who has shot, it is there to be seen and judged by all.

From an officiating point of view, I naturally will watch what the umpires and markers are doing. I have observed some great work, but I have also watched a marker sit down throughout the game, and umpires using equipment incorrectly. I have seen officials not appropriately dressed for the occasion. I have viewed markers and umpires on the bank with a beer or a smoke in hand. Whilst thankfully I have not seen this in Victoria, this is not the image we want for our sport.

Other poor practices often observed include; using feet to indicate shots, kicking the jack into position (permitted during COVID), chatting with club mates or friends, not using spray chalk and simply not being in front of the head once the last bowl is delivered to be ready to walk and be in position for the next end. This very practice helps avoid having to chase the jack if you are not already down the rink. Accredited and well-trained markers will also always move to the front of the head for a drive.

Bowls Victoria livestreaming replay:

Clubs or event organisers should always utilise their best accredited markers and umpires whenever possible. They are trained to always remain on the rink and position themselves for the best view of the game.

When it comes to livestreaming, if the marker is in the correct position, they will usually not block the view of the camera(s). This comes down to training. Accredited markers are trained to assess the head and to pre-empt questions from the players, which helps speed up the game. Effective and well-trained markers in fact assist livestreaming commentators with accurate information.

Some livestreaming I have viewed has been broadcast by a person with a phone in hand, walking up and down the green or along the bank. If you’re planning on streaming using this method, ensure the players are happy with this, as it could be very distracting and impact on their concentration. Make sure there are no trip hazards.

Who needs permission? Both Bowls Victoria and Bowls Australia, as controlling bodies, have clauses in their Conditions of Play for their events pertaining to permission to broadcast and livestream. You cannot sit at the Australian Open tennis or the AFL Grand Final with your mobile phone and live stream a match. Well, you could try, but you would not be there for long as it is not permitted. In many cases, Bowls Victoria encourages third-party livestreaming at their events (although event specific and with restrictions). But please ensure permission has been granted before setting up that tripod. Always refer to the event’s Conditions of Play as a starting point.

At any club event, please make sure you have permission to livestream from the respective controlling body.

As a club who is livestreaming, make sure you have the best of what you can offer. The best umpires, the best markers and the best views of your club and supporters. Livestreaming not only provides on-the-spot entertainment and excitement, but it can also educate the viewers about our sport and encourage viewers to participate in future. Remember, the club President or the best and most loved volunteer may not be the best marker or umpire at your club.

So many times I have been approached and asked, “I saw so-and-so on a livestream do this. Is that correct”? I am more confident in answering if I have seen the vision myself. People watch. People comment. This is great for the promotion of our game.

Livestreaming certainly promotes discussion and creates a healthy interest in our great game. It is here to stay, so let us give the World our best possible view.

John Roberts
Officiating and Laws Committee