The Man Who Saved Tennis

An exclusive Tomorrow magazine interview with Paul ‘Hawk-Eye’ Hawkins

“I see sport as a metaphor for life.”

I’ve never met a dragon, but Paul ‘Hawk-Eye’ Hawkins looks and sounds like a dragon of the Dragons’ Den kind. Articulate, pleasant and telegenic, this is the man whose ability to ‘think outside the box’ has revolutionised tennis, golf, football, cricket, and pretty much any other professional sport that comes to mind, along with the viewers’ experience of those sports.

Paul is the founder of Hawk-Eye Innovations, whose mission is ‘to pioneer and inspire change in sport’. In layman’s terms, the company provides the technology to tell whether a ball is ‘in or out’ in tennis, something which the former world number one professional player, Andre Agassi, described as “the biggest thing to happen in tennis for 40 years”. It’s also the basis for the video assistant referee (VAR) system, now used in professional football and a multitude of other sports.

Rugby Injury Review Pitchside Medical Tablet

Paul gained a PhD in Artificial Intelligence from Durham University in 1999, after which he worked for Roke Manor Research Ltd. As he told me, “I chose Roke Manor because I felt they had the infrastructure to develop what I had in mind.” So where did the idea come from? “I had aspirations to be a professional cricketer,” said Paul, “and I couldn’t help but notice the frustrations in the game due to poor decision-making by officials. I know about Artificial Intelligence and I have a passion for sport, so I felt I could develop a solution.”

Paul certainly did develop a solution. Hawk-Eye Innovations now employs over 1,000 staff working in more than 40 countries. Twelve years ago, Paul sold his stake in the company to the Sony Group Corporation, but he still works for Hawk-Eye Innovations as chief innovations officer. His role is described on the company website as ‘to think of things from an alternative perspective and to always question and challenge convention. To be as irresponsible as possible!’

SMART Analyst Systems
Copa Libertadores Final 2021

Paul is particularly passionate about “challenging convention” and feels the mindset of “that is how we’ve always done it” is one of the greatest barriers to progress. He’s certainly been walking the talk. In 2014, he was awarded an OBE – presented by Queen Elizabeth II – for his services to sport and technology. 

Paul now lives in Vilamoura, his home for the last 18 months. He speaks positively about Portugal being a great base from which to work and he even sees the Algarve as having the potential to be a new Silicon Valley. I asked Paul what advice he would offer anyone considering starting a business here. “Passion beats experience,” he said. “If you have a passion or an idea, then pursue it. All the other stuff about running a business you can either learn or get someone else to do it for you.”

As for the future, not surprisingly for a man who has achieved so much, he’s keen to do more and is training to row across the Atlantic with his son. I confess, I didn’t even know rowing across the Atlantic was something we human beings are capable of doing! As Paul said, “I see sport as a metaphor for life. It sometimes throws the most difficult challenges your way, but with hard work, commitment, and a thirst for learning, it can be joyous and rewarding.”

Main image: Mercedes Cup Hawk Eye


Share this edition