By Denis Jjuuko

It has been an interesting few days in Russia as the world watches the ongoing Fifa World Cup — one of the most televised and watched sports events globally. The World Cup is organized every four years and features 32 national teams at the moment. Most countries where soccer is a popular sport do anything under the sun to have their teams take part in this holly grail of sport. It is every soccer player’s dream to play in the World Cup.

Since its inception in 1930, the World Cup has continued to be one of the most important sports events ever. Stakes are always high to the extent that a Colombian footballer who scored an own goal was shot dead when he returned home by an enraged fan. I remember the 1994 World Cup that was hosted in the United States of America where we would wake up deep in the night (due to Uganda being in a different time zone) to catch the game. It is that serious.

However, this year’s tournament has been a bit different. We have seen the diminishing power of the referee thanks to technology.

For more than a century, the referee has been one of the most powerful people in the world, albeit for 90 minutes — the normal duration of a football match. Armed with a whistle, a small pocket size book, and cards in yellow and red colors, the referee had enormous power. He was more powerful than the US President. He would make people happy or cry depending on what he decided. Although over the years referees have tried to be fair, there are many occasions when they made decisions that baffled everyone watching. Their defense has always been that decisions are made in a split of a second. That is very true but sometimes decisions made were hard to fathom.

At the 2018 Fifa World Cup, the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) was introduced. If players contested the decision of the centre referee, or if the referee wasn’t sure of the decision to call, they consult by going to a screen placed on the sidelines to review on probably “slow motion” what had happened. Goals that had been disallowed were for example given, sending some teams through to the next round.

Technology in this way has democratized and removed one of the most powerful ‘despots’ of our time although of course not in the manner of the Arab Spring. The power of referee was symbolized by the whistle, red and yellow cards. These were his AK47 rifle or codes to nukes. And although the referee still decides how to use their whistle and cards and still powerful, there are much more people that could be involved in decision making. That is how democracy should work. It shouldn’t be a one-man affair.

Technology didn’t only reduce the power of the soccer referee, it has democratized many other sectors. Social media even when its use is taxed still democratized the distribution of information and who becomes a source in the stories. Previously, journalism mainly covered the rich and powerful and poor people only appeared in the media when they were victims or had committed crimes. Technology gave them the power to publish and be part of stories.

However, there are lessons from the World Cup in Russia for business. One of them is that technology should enable businesses make informed decisions, reduce costs and most importantly the uncontestable power of managers. By pressing on a button, for example, a customer can inform others that something is wrong in a certain store or branch and others can be able to look at it and make a decision. Somebody with a farm in Lwebitakuli and works and lives in Kampala can be able to make a decision regarding the feeding of their animals. The technology is now available to inform them whether their animals were given feeds or not. Or actually were given too much. This helps in reducing wastage of resources and makes a company more profitable. Sitting miles away from your business premises, you can be able to monitor in real time what is happening and ensure that the correct decision is made. Companies like Sekanyolya Systems sell this technology.

So like we have seen at the Fifa World Cup in Russia, businesses can use ‘VAR’ to make much more informed decision, run more efficiently, and make much more returns.

The author is a communications and visibility consultant.

* Fifa photo of the VAR room in Russia