Sports began as a leisure activity.
They were played either as pure entertainment, or as an amateur activity that was worth it for its own sake.
The development of fixed rules and refereeing happened at different stages for different sports, but in homage to our ambassadors Ricardo Quaresma and Luís Figo, we are going to be telling this story mostly through the lens of football (the fact that it’s by far the most popular sport on the planet, and most of the readers will like it and know the rules, is entirely coincidental *wink wink*).
Football didn’t even have rules for its first thousand years.
WE INTERRUPT FOR A DISCLAIMER: we are aware there are other forms of games played mainly with a ball and a foot that are older even than medieval football in Europe, such as cuju in China, or pasuckuakohowog in North America, among many others. There is little to no indication they were influential in the development of what we know today as football (or soccer, for our American readers), which developed as an attempt to regulate the games played in English public schools.
WE CONTINUE: Medieval forms of football, that developed in England into what we know today, were akin to battles played on the street over a ball, with almost nothing being illegal. In the village of Atherstone, people will reenact a 1129 historical match every year.
Slowly but surely, football evolved. It changed. It branched out into things like rugby, which would evolve even more into American football, and into what we see today in Premier League fields and the Champions League.
But first, it would go through schools.
Football became football in the English public school system
Before we get started, and if you’re not British, what is a public school? No googling allowed!
It’s not what you think.
Publicly funded schools that are run by the state are called state schools in the UK. Public schools are a very specific group of elite private institutions that are associated with the ruling classes. They are called “public” because they accept students irrespective of locality, denomination or the trade or profession of pupils’ parents.
Kids that attend public schools are (and were in the 18th and 19th centuries) by and large wealthy and from important families.
There is no way they would be playing games without rules.
This is why the first few sets of moderately organised rules for the game of football came via the British public schools. But every school had their own rules, and they could never agree on them.
Then came Cambridge
What happens to kids in Britain when they’re done with public schools such as Eton, Winchester or Westminster? University, of course, ideally in Cambridge or Oxford.
Cambridge was the place the first agreed-upon set of rules were developed.
This picture is from the 1856 meeting that included representatives from a number of public schools, as well as those from the University of Cambridge itself. It shows the rules that everyone has agreed to enforce in their own school competitions.
There would be several of these meetings in Cambridge, and the 1863 rules would, in fact, be the basis for the first set of FA laws of the game, which are still being used today (ever-evolving, of course).
So, to recap: the first rules for football that were used by more than one institution date from 1848. It took until 1863 for them to be widely used.
What about referees?
There were no impartial referees until 1891
These are public schools. And Cambridge.
It was assumed that all disputes could be resolved between the team’s captains, as gentlemen.
If that sounds funny, it’s because it is.
That method would result in chaos, so every team decided to call upon two umpires, one for each team, that would discuss fouls among each other. If they couldn’t agree, then they would refer to the only impartial element of the game, the timekeeper.
And, thus, the referee (i.e. the one you refer to) was born. It would take until 1891 until everyone agreed that the umpires would never really agree on anything and it was best to simply make the impartial referee the ultimate authority.
This was all fun and games until the sport became professional
It’s interesting to look at this process now, in the age of multimillionaire athletes and clubs that are akin to large corporations, but when football was developing in the 19th century, it was quite literally a fun game to be played by school boys.
When the FA (The Football Association, that exists to this day) was founded, in 1863, the clubs were just loose groupings of people who enjoyed playing the game together, and wanted to make a league for London clubs to play against each other. It was not very different from the friendly leagues any of us play with our friends over the weekends.
When it became clear that there was money to be made from football (because people became interested, and there started to be an audience), the fight against professionalization was intense. The FA wanted to ban professional players altogether, and would only relent when clubs threatened to leave and form a different association.
They would lose, of course, and in 1888, the first professional Football League was founded, with six sides from Northwest England, and six from the Midlands.
From this moment on, refereeing actually mattered.
Refereeing has barely changed since then
Linesmen have existed since 1891 (the umpires were promoted!).
Since then, there have been few (and quite feeble) attempts at improvement. Adding extra referees to the goal-line hardly improved the quality of refereeing. Some technological advancements have been implemented, such as goal-line technology and VAR.
Essentially, however, and despite the number of match-fixing and corruption scandals the sport has faced in the last century, we still mostly rely on one man judging a vast percentage of the infractions that are happening on a football field relying simply on what he sees and his own judgment.
We feel like this is a mistake. AI can do a much better job.
Play2Earn with a higher sense of fairness
We’ve been strong advocates of the Play2Earn concept. And when players are in a Play2Earn environment, they expect that te most talented and/or engaged ones will get rewarded; that those rewards and assets are tradable; and that the in-game economy will be transparent.
Fair and equal play is one of the most important concepts in our game today. We applaud all initiatives to promote it, and we salute the organizations that do a truly awesome job of promoting and sharing the values of openness and equity that are essential for sports to be what they are: community builders.
We do feel, however, that until we ensure that the sport played on the pitch is judged in a fair and consistent way, there will always be a shadow hanging over these efforts. Referees are human beings, just like us. They make mistakes, just like us. They get it wrong, just like us. And, while the vast majority of them will be upstanding and fair-minded individuals, there will always be a small minority that aren’t. The fact that so much weight is being squarely placed on their shoulders is something that couldn’t be helped.
But now it can.
We have developed AI that can understand what it’s seeing on video, and we can train it to make judgments. Our first working version is focused on football freestyle tricks. It sees the video, it knows what it’s seeing, and it can faultlessly evaluate it according to whatever criteria we provide it.
If we apply it to football (or any other sport for that matter), there will be no more room for interpretation, no more room for “was that contact strong enough for him to fall”, no more debate about whether the hand’s movement was necessary or not — it give all the sports lovers the assurance that their team is not being harmed by poor referee decisions and all the Play2Earn fans the in-game economy transparency they need.
The AI can make those judgments based on data, not impressions. The AI has no preconceived notions or awareness of which players are stars and which aren’t. The AI doesn’t understand the status of the teams. The AI isn’t affected by nerves. The AI doesn’t care about opposition fans screaming or making threats. The AI doesn’t read the sports press or social media. The AI can’t be bribed, cajoled or influenced. The AI doesn’t care if it’s a small preseason match or the final of the Champions League.
The AI is always fair.