The changing face of tech in football
Tech is already making key decisions on the pitch and helping players eke out extra levels of performance they never knew were possible. Now tech’s set to change professional sport beyond recognition all over again, here’s how...
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Sunday 28 December 2014, St Mary’s Stadium, Southampton. In the 55th minute of a key Premier League clash, Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas darts into the box and is felled by Saints’ Matt Targett in the penalty area. The crowd holds its breath. But instead of pointing to the spot, referee Anthony Taylor brandishes a yellow card and books Fabregas for diving.
On the sidelines, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho is apoplectic. Fabregas holds his head in disbelief. Play goes on and the game finishes 1-1. But in the hours afterwards, it becomes clear that a mistake has been made; assistant referee Darren Cann says he flagged for a penalty, only to be overruled.
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Once again, the issue of video refereeing and tech in football hits the headlines. It’s exactly these kinds of howlers that the KNVB is looking to eliminate. In 2014 the Dutch FA announced it was trialling a video referee system in conjunction with Hawk-Eye, the Sony-owned company that provides goal-line technology to the Premier League and ball-tracking tech for LBW decisions in international cricket.
Having already succeeded with goal-line tech (GLT), Hawk-Eye and the KNVB are confident their system will soon be used in top matches.
A tech crisis of confidence in cricket
A main issue in cricket, is where the Umpire Decision Review System (DRS) enables players to challenge an umpire’s decision. “Some people see [DRS] as a tool to eliminate the howler,” says Sidharth Monga, assistant editor of ESPN Cricinfo and an expert on DRS.
“However, some feel it should be used for every marginal call, which is where it becomes a bit of a problem.” The issue, says Monga, is that DRS expects players to be umpires as well, to challenge and perhaps undermine the officials on the pitch and those on the sidelines.
There’s also the issue of so-called Umpire’s Call, which is invoked when a call is so marginal that the decision stays on field – essentially protecting the officials and their integrity, rather than getting it correct. This has opened the door to conjecture about the system and complaints, specifically from India’s Board of Cricket Control (BCCI), which refuses to play test matches using DRS.
In short, cricket which has used DRS since 2009, appears to be having a crisis of confidence at the moment.
Rugby tech is more prevalent
While football prevaricates and cricket works itself up over tech, rugby union is forging ahead with more futuristic plans.
Television Match Officials (TMOs) have been used in rugby since 2001 and the game is readying itself for Hawk-Eye, with plans to introduce tech to help make correct line calls during this year’s World Cup. “Hawk-Eye’s system for rugby uses SMART Replay technology to put control of all broadcast angles into the hands of the TMO, so they can make faster and more conclusive decisions,” says Kim Parker of Hawk Eye.
Wasps captain and England forward, James Haskell tells us how tech impacts the sport.
“There have been a lot of advancements in recent years because rugby has always been pushing the boundaries of tech. We used to have Prozone to track everything, but now everything is very much based on statistics, using camera banks in stadiums. The coaches have access to a screen telling them how many mistakes you make, how many carries, and making decisions on whether to take players off as well. I think it’s changed things dramatically.”
“The program SportsCode is used to break things down and create clips for players to use. That’s passed via the cloud for players to see on iPads. Specialist apps are being built for rugby clubs where data’s being shared between coaches, too. You’re able to log in in the morning and catalogue your wellness. Are you tired? Are you sore? How did you find a session? It’s all getting tied together.“
Sports tech is here to stay
While Hawk-Eye might talk up futuristic plans, such as live automation for every shot in tennis, the reality of tech’s future in sport is more prosaic. As cameras and tracking tech become cheaper and more prevalent, video referrals are likely to be inescapable in top-flight football within a decade.
Refinements to existing tech, and a better understanding from governing bodies about how to implement it, means we’ll see more decisions “go upstairs”. But whatever happens, any innovation is unlikely to kill off the emotion.
Tech to make you perform better
Big tech is unlikely to be coming to your five aside, but these gadgets can still help your game.
TomTom Golfer GPS
With data on 34,000 courses, the Dutch mapping maven’s golf watch is a must for wannabe McIlroys. Get yardage to the front, back and middle of the green, as well as hazard graphics and distance to lay-up points.
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Sony Smart Tennis Sensor
Tagging on to the bottom of compatible rackets, this savvy sensor delivers instant visualisations of shots on a smartphone. You get data on top spin, shot count, ball impact and number of shots.
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Adidas miCoach Smart Ball
Bin that concrete-scuffed Mitre...Adidas’s miCoach smart ball has a sensor that hooks up with an app to give you spin, trajectory and speed. What you do with that is up to you.
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Under Armour Armour39
Under Armour’s pro effort takes fi tness tracking to the next level. A chest strap delivers heart rate data, workout intensity and even gives your sweat session a score out of ten.
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