Andy Mair will be looking to put in a good all-round performance at the Olympics in Brazil this summer, but you won’t find him on any medals podium.
When the Games come round, our focus tends to be solely on the athletes, striving for success and enjoying the limelight at the world’s biggest sports event.
“Officials ensuring fair play and enforcing the rules in each sport have to be just as much ‘in the zone’ as the competitors”
However, there’s an whole army of other people without whose contribution Rio 2016 couldn’t possibly go ahead.
They are the referees and judges, the umpires, marshals and range of other officials who are there to make the Olympics tick as smoothly as a Swiss watch.
Kent-based Mair is an elite-level hockey umpire, and will in Brazil working with video technology to ensure that the correct calls are made out on the pitch.
In many ways, he says, the officials ensuring fair play and enforcing the rules in each sport have to be just as much ‘in the zone’ as the competitors.
“By the time you get to an Olympic Games, you get used to the rhythm of major tournaments. You learn the ups and the downs, and you get ‘up’ for your games and then you get back ‘down’ afterwards to try and relax,” he told me.
“If the technology can slow things down and highlight things that the officials couldn’t possibly see, then it’s definitely worth having”
It’s a trick that not everybody manages because they can’t always keep that balance. You can see people in a tournament, their performances start to go because they are simply running out of [mental] puff. They are not capable of sustaining the concentration levels.
“The officials tend to be spectators of things such as the opening ceremony, rather than being involved in it. But a lot of them will get involved in a lot of things in the Athletes’ Village. You can see people trying to detach themselves and then get their levels back up for the events they are officiating in.”
Mair is part of a sport that has been rapidly developing. At London 2012 he was a video umpire, assessing referrals from the umpire on the pitch, and challenges made by teams on a call they thought were wrong. Mair watches a slow-motion replay to determine the correct decision.
The technology is, he says, much-needed in what is very fast and intense game.
“Being part of the on-pitch umpiring team has changed radically even in the time that I’ve been involved because hockey is a high-speed sport on synthetic pitch.
“We have two umpires one at each end, with equal sort of strength and value if you like. operate with each other.
“In some sports, technology has perhaps got too important and now they’re just learning to rein it back”
“In the big tournaments, you build up strong relationships with the people you’re working with, build up the trust, so you know when things get tricky you’re able to rely on each other to try and get through the problems.
“The difficulty, as I’ve said, is that hockey is a very fast sport. The ball is very small and the pitch is similar to the size of a football pitch. The ball can travel from one end to the other within a second or two.
“Being able to see what fully happens all of the time is perhaps asking too much. So if the technology can slow things down and highlight things that the officials couldn’t possibly see then it’s definitely worth having.
“In some sports, technology has perhaps got too important and now they’re just learning to rein it back – that’s all part of the learning process within all sports.”
At London 2012, tickets for the hockey – with its end-to-end action and GB’s good Olympic record – were much sought-after. The sport is popular in this country and is played at school, county, club and national league level.
But what will be its appeal at Rio 2016, in a country where hockey isn’t on the sporting agenda for many fans?
Mair said: “The Brazilians are going to have a tough time, and it was the same [for Greece] at the 2004 Athens Games. They had to go through a qualification process to get through to the tournament and they tried very hard to do that.
“Brazil do play hockey, they compete within the Pan-American set-up, but the level of their international team is much lower than what would be expected in an Olympics, so it’s possible they won’t take part.
“But hockey will be seen in the country and it will be televised. The people will want tickets to go and see it, and that will have an effect on the sport in the host nation.”
Image courtesy of englandhockey.co.uk