Instant Replay Pilot Program Introduced for Polo in Wellington for First Time in World

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Melissa Ganzi (left) inthe instant replay control center at her Grand Champions Polo Club. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Melissa Ganzi (left) inthe instant replay control center at her Grand Champions Polo Club. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

WELLINGTON, Florida, Jan. 18, 2014–Instant replay to review umpire decisions was introduced Saturday for the first time in the history of polo at a 12-goal game at Grand Champions Polo Club that is the center of a fast-growing and innovative medium goal league.

The instant replay system consisted of three live cameras at strategic locations around the field transmitting wireless high definition video feeds to a control center. A U.S. Polo Association umpire reviewed disputed on-field calls and made a binding decision. The state-of-the-art video control system will be augmented in the next few weeks by a 30-foot (10m) unmanned blimp providing an aerial view of most of the field.

While the instant replay idea, borrowed from American professional sports such as the National Football League, may not directly apply to other horse sports in its current form it was what Melissa Ganzi, a USPA board member and with her husband, Mark, owner of the Grand Champions club, said was an important step to provide the best officiating.

“We may not be the big league but the players deserve the best decisions,” Melissa told dressage-news.com. “If we get it right maybe the big leagues will adopt it.”

Wellington’s polo season on the same schedule as the Global Dressage Festival and the Winter Equestrian Festival of jumpers and hunters is the world’s most competitive tournament lineup after Argentina.

The pilot system was used for a match between Casablanca and Las Monjitas.

As in many other sports, polo umpires have come under increased scrutiny in recent years for missed calls.

“This is new territory for us,” said USPA CEO Peter Rizzo. “It’s really nice to attempt this and we are very glad Grand Champions is offering to be a testing ground. We have been wanting to do this. We always want to get the call right and by us experimenting with this we will find out if it will be applicable to all levels of polo.”

“I think this is important and it’s going to be special since we are the first club worldwide to have slow motion, instant replay,” Melissa said. “I know I get frustrated when I play and you don’t want to have that feeling that a bad call determined the game. You want to feel that you had every opportunity to win the game.

“Sometimes you lose a game and have a bad taste in your mouth, that there is that one call that may have had consequences or may have cost you the season. If you could have done something differently or could have challenged that and gone back to watch the tape with the umpires and hear, ‘you know what, you were right, we missed that call.’ We are always looking for ways to improve the sport.”

Teams waiting for a decision on a disputed call. © 2013 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Teams waiting for a decision on a disputed call. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
U.S. Polo Association umpire Steve Lane, monitoring the instant replay. © 2014 Ken Braddck/dressage-news.com
U.S. Polo Association umpire Steve Lane, monitoring the instant replay. © 2014 Ken Braddck/dressage-news.com

During Saturday’s game, each team was allowed one challenge to use at any time to disagree with a call and ask for an instant replay. The system was put into effect and the game was stopped while the disputed play was reviewed by the instant replay judge whose decision was final.

If the team wins its challenge, they were allowed to keep their one challenge in the game. If it lost, they could not challenge for the remainder of the game.