the sports police+judiciary

What does the fact that both its police force and judiciary apparatus are embodied in the same person of the referee say about the (democratic) structure of modern, binary sport?

What does the fact that this same co-embodiment of police force and judiciary is intimately interwoven (in not quite real-time) with an optoelectronic surveillance apparatus add to the first question?


What does it mean that this same surveillance apparatus is in fact the repurposed machinations of spectacle used to support the sport-media complex, which is to say that the formerly "independent" media are now formally entwined in the democratic relations described above? Entwined not simply as a compromised partner, as perhaps before, but fundamentally in a high position of a sporting contest's judicial system, with its millions of real dollars in economic outcome at stake, in what has become a legitimation of the fact that the police force and judiciary are embodied in the same person?

One need only consider the cases of NFL official Ed Hochuli among others to demonstrate this legitimation at work. While one mistake made by an official can be simultaneously witnessed by millions, along with accompanying discourse by the announcers (fraught with its own politics), it obscures the everyday fact that police force and judiciary are embodied in the same person. At minimum, the official must now answer — via the camera — to the network, whether before the game (situation review and player briefing), during the game (coach's challenges and instant replay), or after the game. This latter may be effected along private (referee evaluations) or public dimensions (the sport-media complex and highlight packages).

"[A]ny member of society will have the right to come and see with his own eyes how the schools, hospitals, factories, prisons function. There is no risk, therefore, that the increase of power created by the panoptic machine may degenerate into tyranny; the disciplinary mechanism will be democratically controlled, since it will be constantly accessible 'to the great tribunal committee of the world'" (Foucault, Discipline and Punish, p. 207).

The cases mentioned above are a complete perversion of Foucault's suggestion that anyone could step into the tower and observe, thus maintaining a system free of tyranny. The only reason the system "worked" in those instances was due to the power of the mass, with all the problems that implies.

One might suggest that if the network is embodied in the hybrid police+judiciary figure of the referee, then ultimately we vote with our media consumption. Generally speaking, those who have the vote today also have access to a television and in such a case our viewing patterns could retain the principles of democracy. Without getting into the obvious socioeconomic questions such as the discretionary leisure time available to watch television or the restricted ability to access subscriber cable channels, the suggestion is flawed from the outset.

A vote is in some percentage combination a choice (and expression of said choice) for the best interests of self and collective, a particular calculus of the democratic singular-plural. Rational interest is involved, yes, but it is that of singular-plurality. When state and market are kept as separate as possible in the democratic process, the latter is less able to distort this calculus in favour of the purely financial aspects of rational singular-plurality.

But when the Nielsen rating substitutes for the vote as the expression of choice, it must be communicated through an entire machinic circuit of direct market influence before it may arrive to fulfill its democratic purpose. Along the way lies the financial compromise and the distortion of the calculus of singular-plurality. Our viewing habits cannot fulfill the mandate of democracy simply because they must be free of economic gradients and the power relations they embody.

To come full circle, then, far from fulfilling a democratic mandate, the best that viewing habits can support in the sporting context is a legitimation of a system in which police and judiciary are embodied in the same figure. Sport is an institution that maintains strong hierarchical relations in the contemporary age of the network, and thus we might suggest that in the limited case of sporting Empire — bearing in mind its capillarization with broader meshworks of imperial power — the nexus of strong hierarchy and network at the level of assemblage of the league constitutes a weak point in the preservation of democratic relations.


One response to the sports police+judiciary

- rss feed for this comment thread
  1. sportsBabel » comma, garçon says:

    [...] the networked media-entertainment apparatus? Archives of statistical data, the tracking-images of surveillance and spectacle, and the algorithmic engines of machinic intelligence form a different assemblage [...]