Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Video Ref: a call for the end to gratuitous accountability and transparency

There are times we might argue for a ‘video ref’ decision but football isn’t one of them

‘Life is not significant details, illuminated by a flash, fixed forever.
Photographs are’
Susan Sontag, American writer, 1933-2004

This weekend, we’ve witnessed a protest in Sydney which has rekindled anguish towards one group in our community. In China, thousands have taken to the streets of Beijing and other cities to protest against Japan and Japanese people, all over a group of islets, which may or may not be home to some natural resources. There is some dispute over which nation has the right to claim them.

But what captivated the airwaves and print media was a decision made by a video ref in a football game on Friday night. Now, let me make a clear declaration, my team won and continues through the final series. That’s nice. If the other team had got through, I’d be momentarily disappointed but look to next season. It’s football, no more, no less. I have no great stake in it other than a lifelong commitment to the maroon and white. But... #gomanly

At the same time, I’ve been spending the weekend finalising a paper on professional development in tertiary education (having taken time out to witness an excellent example of international bilateral relations in the form of a spectacular taiko concert with Japanese group Kodo and their Australian counterparts, TaikOz).

When I reached the centre of this busy intersection this evening, it occurred to me that sometimes accountability is good but gratuitous accountability disguises or runs the risk of marginalising the fallibility of human nature. We seem to want to guard against the foibles of what it might mean to be human, and that sometimes, ‘failure’ can be an important part of who we can be.

The video ref system in sport should just be done away with. This has less to do with getting a result, and more about the pressures brought to bear by those who spend so much money on the game and for whom the stakes are ridiculously high. It is time-consuming and creates more controversy rather than less. As a sports participant and spectator of some 40+ years, I’m afraid I don’t see a qualitative improvement in sport as a result. While I’m on a roll get rid of golden point as well; a draw is a fine result, there doesn’t always have to be a winner. But I digress.

‘The photographic image... is a message without a code’
‘A photograph is always invisible, it is not it that we see’
Roland Barthes, French critic and thinker, 1915-1980

‘Professional development’ [PD] is tautology by and large. If one is a ‘professional’ then by definition, one proceeds to continue to update and develop one’s expertise. PD in the tertiary education sector has become a sometimes burdensome distraction from the real task at hand, educating people to think, to learn, to be curious, to be questioning. It can take up a chunk of ever-diminishing time and sometimes the outcomes are not always satisfactory.

PD emerges from a place where accountability has overtaken common sense. The tertiary sector, not unlike professional sport, has become an economics-driven marketplace where results, and excellent results, matter above all else. ‘Failure’ and understanding what that can mean, has little meaning in the learning experience. The demand for an unreasonable expectation of excellence foments pressures which play out in stresses and lead to distressing responses.

Tertiary education is not a game in the sense that football is, nor should it be. Tertiary education is important. It matters. It has the power to transform lives and, eventually, society. The ‘accountability’ for educators comes in the form of encouraging a caring and compassionate society; a society that understands that ‘ownership’ of an outcrop of rocks far from madding coasts can be shared and developed in a spirit of cooperation; a society that can tolerate and live with religious differences; a society that can put a bloody football match in its rightful place without assaulting the airwaves for days.

The stuff of this weekend might suggest we can’t do that, that my position, rather than putting the case for too much accountability is a bad thing, might in fact be arguing for more and better levels of the same.

No, what I’m suggesting is that we direct our energies in the wrong directions. Sometimes, it is human nature to be fallible and we need to learn to live with it. Sometimes, in our haste to fight and argue, we forget that it is in our weaknesses that we might find our greatest strengths too. A video ref will not always be there, and s/he won't always get it right. A video ref is considered a 'professional development'. I don't think so.

Conversely, for two and a half hours on Saturday night, two groups of committed musicians and performers—one from Australia, one from Japan—banged on drums, with gentleness and force, with passion and vigour. They demonstrated that life’s vicissitudes can be sorted.

Next time you seek to ‘call someone to account’, think about what it is you are doing and why you might be doing so. Sometimes it will matter. But I wouldn’t mind betting that sometimes it is just a matter of someone’s fallibility showing through. Just don't go belting that fallibility out of them, you could be doing more harm than good.