Giorgio Infantino, the new head of FIFA has gone on record saying that he is against technology in sport and to that we say boo sir, boo indeed. Any game can be defined by a moment, history rewritten in an instant, and this is why the implementation of technology in sport has been so instrumental in sports such as tennis, rugby, cricket and even to a lesser extent football. Human error is inevitable and the easiest way to avoid a Thierry Henry-esque disaster is to utilise technology.
So let’s have a gander at some tech that has been used in sports to date and how it has revolutionised the games for the better.
One of the earliest adopters in terms of utilising technology in sport were those on the crease; cricketers. This fast paced bat and ball game have utilised the Hawkeye system, that while it sounds very cool, is totally unrelated to the Avenger with the bow and arrow.
The Hawkeye system is actually used in a range of sports such as tennis, cricket, football and most recently GAA. Just ask any Kilkenny man how much they covet Hawkeye since it denyed Tipperary an All Ireland in 2014.
In essence it uses a series of complicated computer systems to visually track a balls trajectory and then display a record of its statistically most likely path as a moving image or GIF. Developed by Dr. Paul Hawkins in the UK, Hawkeye was originally created in 2001 and was first used by Channel 4 during a test match between Pakistan and England. The system is used primarily by the television networks and umpires to decide LBW or leg before wicket for the less cricket-knowledgeable of us. An umpire is able to decipher within a 5mm accuracy, where the likely path of the ball can be projected forward, through the batsman’s legs, to see if it would have hit the stumps. Due to its real time coverage it is also a complete record of a bowler’s accuracy can be shown across a match
This technology has also been used in Tennis, where a player gets three views per game if they feel an important shot was in or out. The TMO in rugby in some countries such as France also has such access to this piece of kit in order to decipher in a moment’s notice whether or not to award a try. Of course, it has also been introduced into the footy in the Premier League and Bundesliga, hoping to stop the nonsense moments in sport like Roy Carroll.
Video play back
This is something that has been touted in the football world, so new Mr FIFA listen up. In several sports such as rugby and the NFL, the simple video playback is used. It’s not that hard, in fact it’s quite the opposite. While players are giving it large to a ref about whether or not the player was put in touch, or an illegal block has taken place an extra official with a tablet can have a look at the replay and relay the message to the ref what actually occurred and what decision is correct. Simple…
Let’s take the Premier League for example. A player goes over in the box. The ref awards a penalty and now this decision is set in stone right? While it is, try telling that to the opposition team who spend the next two minutes screaming and shouting in a refs face claiming a dive. A simple cut to the video footage referee clears everything up and we all move on.
Moving away from how it can change the course of a game, what about how tech can change the course of a career. Injuries by their very nature are bad news for any athlete lets name a few, Sturridge, Paul O’Connell, Johnny Sexton, Jack Wilshire, Rafal Nadal, the list goes on and on. Very little is actually done to reduce the number of injuries players receive while on the field of play. Or so we thought. One of the most injury prone sports on the planet is American football with concussion being the most obvious problem and if anyone has seen the news lately it is a massive problem in rugby too. However unlike hurling, unlike rugby and unlike any other sport of its kind the NFL have recently done something about it.
The league has been planning on bringing new helmets into play that have sensor and magnet technology interweaved into the fibres of the helmet which will in turn reduce the risk of brain injuries in contact. These sensors can detect and disperse force across the helmet rather than through the player’s brain. As you can see, there are no shortage of big hits in the sport.
The Riddell InSite has a 5 zone sensor pad which measures impact and a similar product, the SpeedFlex, can reduce frontal impact by using the magnets to disperse force throughout the spine of the helmet. If the impact to the helmet is high enough a sensor will notify the medical staff via a wireless receiver, essentially allowing the physio to decipher whether the player is at risk of concussion and needs to be removed from the field of play.
This type of technology could revolutionise sports in general and make the game far safer for players of all sports. Now we are not saying lets wrap them all in cotton wool but think about it this is directly transferable to hurling, cricket or any other sport that requires a helmet. Theoretically it could also be placed in scrum caps and is being trialled in gum shields for boxers which would also have an impact for rugby. Football players are already familiar with GPS tracking bibs being worn during training, so to work in something similar to the beautiful game shouldn’t be too farfetched.
It’s high time technology is introduced into wider aspects of our sports, for both safety and entertainment.