Authorship of the Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS)
A Plea for Reparative Justice:
Concerning the injury suffered by Senaka Weeraratna consequent to
the denial of a rightful hearing of his claim of invention, copyright
and authorship regarding a critical issue in the regulation of the game
Senaka Weeraratna – an enthusiast since his school days at Royal
College, Colombo on matters pertaining to cricket – felt strongly that
field decisions by Umpires that are questionable – in some cases
outrageously wrong - because they share the heat of the action and are
not at their best in quick judgments, and which umpiring errors were
vividly displayed to the public on television through video replays
should be corrected using the same technology.
At the same time Weeraratna realized that patently wrong umpiring
decisions were allowed to stand because of the absence of a mechanism in
the laws of cricket to overturn them.
As a lawyer, he felt the pressing need for a dynamic review by a
third umpire in a manner similar to a review of a lower court decision
by an appeal court judge, competent in the game with access to new
technologies e.g. video replay, but sufficiently separated from the
players to make adjudications more evidence-based and thereby less prone
to subjective error and ill-judgment.
Weeraratna – actuated by his desire to improve the adjudication of
the game – conceived an entirely new innovative idea ‘player referral’
which has never been part of the adjudication system of cricket or for
that matter any other sport in the world until Weeraratna brought it to
In an essay entitled ‘The umpire's immunity limits appeal rights and
accurate adjudication in cricket’, (published in 1999) he argued
vehemently in elegant and moving prose that the approach to adjudication
in cricket was outmoded; prevailing rules required a heavy reliance to
be placed in the good faith of the umpires so much so that even when an
umpire was wrong his decision had to be treated as right; the rule that
the umpire's decision was final had become so entrenched as a dominant
paradigm in the philosophy of cricket that any attempt to modify this
rule with a view to achieving fairness and accuracy in umpiring
decisions, was viewed as heresy; Yet, the considerations of fairness
that are paramount to the integrity of a sport, require such an approach
to be adopted.
Weeraratna further argued,
“The availability of modern technology today for review of a decision
makes the unqualified adherence to the traditional principle morally
unsustainable. To treat a wrong as a right without attempting to use the
available resources to correct the wrong, is an unjust proposition. But
this is exactly what the current adjudicating rules of cricket deliver”.
He then said that ‘The extraordinary immunity that the rules of
cricket have conferred on the umpires is at variance with natural
justice rules that underpin many democratic institutions. The right to
challenge and have a decision reviewed is a basic rule in a democratic
society. Even the judges in courts of law do not have absolute immunity.
Dissatisfied litigants have the right to appeal against the decision
of a judge to a higher court or a full bench. The appellate procedure in
the legal system is a mechanism that enables a judicial decision to be
reviewed and corrected, if it is unsustainable. This appellate method
serves as a good precedent for the transplanting of the concept of
review to cricket through a paradigm shift in approach to adjudication”
Weeraratna proposed the player referral mechanism as the basis of a
paradigm shift in approach to umpire decision making, that he advocated.
In other words, the incorporation into cricket rules of ‘the Right of
appeal of players against decisions of field umpires’.
He said that ‘Dissatisfied players should have the right of appeal
against the decision of a field umpire to the Third Umpire. The Third
Umpire's powers should be extended to enable him to perform an appellate
role like an Appeal Court judge, in respect of doubtful catches in front
of and behind the wicket including catches by the wicket keeper, run
outs and stumping (when appeals for these dismissals are not referred to
the Third Umpire by a field umpire).
This proposed two-tier appeal process incorporates the principle of
correction that is lacking in the existing system of video arbitration,
which is used purely as an aid by the field umpire.
Any objection that a two-tier appeal process would unduly protract or
destabilise the game can be met by limiting the number of appeals
against the field umpires' decisions to five per side per each innings.
Such a restriction would contain a possible excessive number of appeals
by forcing the players to use this right of appeal sparingly”
Senaka Weeraratna’s writings on this innovative idea were published
in the popular press and leading cricket journals meant for aficionados
of the game, beginning with the letter to the Editor of the Australian
on March 25, 1997. The other publications include;
* Times of London – May 2, 1997;
* Sunday Age Melbourne – April 06, 1997;
* Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) – April 06, 1997;
* Dawn Pakistan – May 09, 1997;
* The International Cricketer (United Kingdom) – May 1997;
* Australian – February 20, 1999;
* Northern Territory News (Darwin) – March 01, 1999;
* Daily News (Sri Lanka) – March 02, 1999;
* Sunday Island (Sri Lanka) – March 14, 1999;
* Time Magazine – June 07, 1999.
He was widely acknowledged in the cricketing world as a prime mover
in the adoption of this seminal notion of reference to a ‘Third Umpire
through Player Referral’.
To Weeraratna’s astonishment and regret, the wealthy and powerful
bureaucracy that rules the world of international cricket i.e.
International Cricket Council (ICC), convinced of the strength of the
idea proposed by Weeraratna adopted the idea in what became universally
known as the Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS) or later abbreviated
to Decision Review System (DRS) and started using it in Test Cricket
from October 2009, and a few years later in International One Day
Cricket, but jettisoned the author - for reasons best known to them but
baffling to the cricket lovers outside the charmed circle of
Weeraratna protested at this seeming contumacy and executive
purblindness on the part of the ICC in ignoring his sincere and
disinterested contribution to the improvement of the game. To use a
metaphor from the game itself, this stand on the part of the ICC was
A reply sent to Weeraratna by David Becker, the then Head of Legal of
the ICC, dated May 09, 2010, resorted to a species of spurious
legalistic logic when honesty and plain speaking was urgently needed.
Becker argued that Weeraratna’s contribution – treated as a species
of ‘intellectual property’ - was not rightfully owned by him since it
was aired incautiously and promiscuously in interacting with the Press
and the General Public. The latter were regarded as ‘vulgar’ outlets for
the ‘airing’ of well-formed and innovative proposals. He should have (so
argued Becker) ‘registered a relevant patent’ or whispered in the ear of
the Rulers of Cricket before addressing the popular (or commonplace) hoi
polloi on this sensitive subject.
The absurdity of this position is evident for those even lightly
informed of the history of discovery. Nowhere is it said that
discoveries must be hidden until the Great Ruler is informed. Modern
Pharmaceutical Giants and other Masters of Capitalism resort to this
trickery – but they thirst for wealth, not fair play and their game is
far more sordid than the cricket currently played. It is a high
principle of Natural Justice to share when public beneficence is the
goal. Senaka Weeraratna has lived up to this high ideal.
Becker has said – inter alia –
“you chose to publish your idea all over the world in a variety of
magazines and newspapers, such that you would be taken to have waived
your right to confidentiality of the idea”
This statement is ridiculous as a general proposition. Suppose a
person - not a professional in the field – discovers a new way of
destroying the breeding sites of mosquitoes in urban dwellings. His
attempts to convince the expert establishment fails because he is not
regarded as one of them.
Subsequently his ideas win public support and are accepted by the
authorities and put into practice. Can it be argued that he has no
‘rights of ownership’ because he had done some public propaganda prior
to the dawning of wisdom on the part of the authorities? Has he ‘waived
his rights’ as the author of the new idea? Is not the case of Weeraratna
an exact parallel even if the fields of applicability are very
Consider, next, the following statement of Becker
‘This, in turn, presupposes that the relevant ICC committee members
who came up with the idea were even aware of your idea and the details
thereof in the first place’.
Furthermore, there is the astonishing statement Becker that (I quote)
“I can assure you that the members thereof did not at any time during
their deliberations have any regard to information which came from you”.
That a group of professionals cogitating on cricketing matters did
not read the literature devoted to the problem at hand – including that
of Weeraratna’s leading articles on the subject that were published in
widely-read periodicals – is simply unbelievable. Were they like the
proverbial Wise Monkeys who refused to see or hear because their great
sagacity made all this unnecessary? Is it not more likely that this is a
case of ‘Artful Forgetting’ to dodge a liability that greatly
inconveniences the ICC?
The next argument of Becker, is that the ‘ICC brains trust’ that
looked into the matter of a proposal of a ‘Third Umpire reviewing
decisions on player referral’ had minds (and brains) that were tabula
rasa in so far as prior knowledge on this issue was concerned. More
specifically, in their session of brain-storming on this issue, they
were, willy nilly, unaware of the existence of Senaka Weeraratna and his
Becker says in his email correspondence addressed to Weeraratna ‘With
respect, they (ICC Cricket Committee) were not, and are not, even aware
of who you are’.
We must ask, in all honesty if this is believable? Is it not a
necessary compulsion in claims of priority or ownership to see if others
have anticipated you in that which you claim to be autochthonously
Suppose a stratagem is devised without inputs from external sources –
a very strange procedure for an expert body – must not this innovation
trigger a search for others who may have had the same idea and this
Senaka Weeraratna’s ideas on ‘Player Referral to the Third Umpire’
issue were widely known because he was a vociferous advocate of such
moves long before the ‘savants’ of the ICC met in a virtually
hermetically sealed conclave.
Weeraratna’s reply to ICC
In Weeraratna’s reply to the ICC dated March 23, 2011 he reiterated
that the idea that the decisions made by an on field umpire shall be
subjected to process of reviewing was conceived by him in or around
1997, and the said idea of his had found expression in the UDRS system
in the form that:
a) a dis-satisfied player shall have the opportunity to appeal
against a decision of an on field umpire;
b) such appeal shall be routed through the captain of the relevant
team (when the team is fielding) and through a batsman of the relevant
team who has been dismissed by an on-field umpire upholding an appeal by
the fielding side for his dismissal
c) such appeal shall be made to the third umpire; and
d) the number of appeals per inning against the decisions of an on
field umpire shall be restricted.
He added that the said expression of his idea had been contained in
several articles authored by him and published in several newspapers and
periodicals having a wide readership internationally.
When regard is had to the Umpire Decision Review System as being
currently adopted and used by ICC, Weeraratna said that it was apparent
that the same had been developed by substantially taking from the
aforesaid - His expression of the idea that the decisions made by an on
field umpire shall be subjected to a process of reviewing upon a player
He said that it would not be difficult for him to establish that the
members of the relevant ICC Committee who had purportedly come up with
the idea of the review system as claimed by David Becker, had access to
the writings of Weeraratna, due to the same having been widely
publicized much earlier in time as aforesaid.
Under these circumstances, Weeraratna averred that the acts of the
ICC constituted a violation of his moral copyright by the ICC failing to
attribute the authorship of the Umpire Decision Review System currently
being adopted and used by ICC to him and also his economic copyright by
publicly adopting and using the same without his license.
ICC fails to identify an author
It must be borne in mind that though the ICC maintains that it was a
decision taken by the ICC Cricket Committee in 2006 to allow decisions
made by an on field umpire to be subject to a process of reviewing, that
led to the launching of the UDRS in November 2009, ICC has not been able
to identify a single individual by name within the ranks of the ICC as
the true author of the idea or the point of time of conception of the
idea. The silence of the ICC on the authorship of the concept underlying
the UDRS in terms of identification by name is another tacit admission
that there is no such single person within the ICC ranks who can show by
evidence of previous publications authorship of the original conception
of the idea.
An idea that has brought about such a revolutionary change in the
game of cricket has to germinate in the mind of a human being. It cannot
just fall from the skies above.
Any reference to Tennis or American Football as the source of the
idea is an unsustainable argument because Tennis introduced player
referral with video replay only in 2006, nine years after Weeraratna had
first published his article in the ‘Australian’ in March 1997. In the
case of American Football there had been a mechanism called ‘Coach
Referral’ but not ‘Player Referral’.
There is a significant philosophical difference underlying coach
referral as opposed to player referral. Weeraratna has clearly expounded
in his writings at the beginning of his entry into this debate on the
barriers that stood in the way of integrating player referral into rules
of cricket or mounting any challenge by a player to a decision of a
field umpire because of the fear that it would dilute the traditional
authority of an on - field umpire.
It would appear that there isn’t a single published article making a
case unequivocally in favour of player referral in cricket before the
publication of Weeraratna’s letter to the editor of the Australian on
March 25, 1997. In the absence of a player referral mechanism in
American Football before the aforesaid date March 25, 1997, the question
arises whether Senaka Weeraratna was the first in the world to advocate
in writing ' player referral' in any field sport?
All available evidence points in that direction. If this can be
established by an impartial inquiry at an international level this would
be an huge intellectual achievement and honour for Sri Lanka.
Unless Sri Lanka takes pride in the intellectual and innovative
achievements of its people the motivation for other Sri Lankans
particularly of the younger generation to follow suit will not be there.
At the recent Olympics held in London the host nation Britain went out
of its way to ensure that those who had brought credit to the country
and its good name in any sphere of life was given pride of place. Among
those honoured was the inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners –
Lee who was part of an amazing presentation made during the opening
ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games.
We hesitate to say this of the ICC - but it is a brute fact of life
that we live in a world where Western Values and Ideas dominate all
aspects of modern life – including games such as Cricket. It is a
natural corollary of this proud thesis that innovative ideas from the
‘Developing World and people of different skin colour i.e. brown and
black’ have a hard struggle to overcome an ingrained Euro – centric
prejudice against such contributions. The old fashioned rules of
political correctness of a by – gone era of western imperialism and
apartheid South Africa appear to continue to prevail in a discriminatory
fashion in the corridors of power of the ICC. This is very unfortunate.
In the case of the Ethno-Botanic and Medicinal Knowledge of the
natives of North-America, no patents were taken out and the Drug
Companies fattened greatly on stolen knowledge. This is, perhaps an
historical aberration – but it is good to remember the hegemony of the
powerful in dealing with some of the matters mentioned above.
In the context of Senaka Weeraratna and his claim for recognition by
the International Cricket Council of a key innovative idea for the
improvement of the efficiency and reliability of the Game, what is
astonishing is that in this late day and age, the ICC appears to have
resorted to a hoary legal stratagem that made billions for the
Pharmaceutical Giants and woefully deceived the natives.
Weeraratna’s suggestion was made in conditions and context where
‘rights to the ownership of knowledge’ supposedly had little meaning -
just as the lore of Medicine Men in Amazonia.
Native knowledge was damned for being shared. A follow-up logic is
that native knowledge when ‘digested’ by experts looses all links to the
original and must be treated as a wonderfully new innovation. Weeraratna
is surely a victim of this deductive alchemy.
As a fellow Sri Lankan and ardent follower of the game of Cricket, I
would like to urge the use of principles of Reparative Justice as a
basis of resolution of this dispute. Unlike in conventional ‘inquiries’
of a quasi-judicial nature, it may not be advisable to proceed in the
direction of identifying parties as offenders and victims in a situation
that may cause breach of social harmony between free-ranging groups.
However, justice must be done. We call for reperative justice from
the ICC that will bring about recognition of the moral copyright of
Senaka Weeraratna as the true author of the key elements of the UDRS and
appropriate economic redress for use of his brain child in the world of
ICC administered cricket.