Technology has changed the way we live our everyday lives. We no longer tend to have paper diaries for our appointments, we use a calendar on our smartphone. We don’t put up with traditional Television schedules any more, we catch it all on-demand because it suits us better. If you can think of something in your day-to-day life, you can probably guarantee technology has impacted how it is done over the years.
An area that took technology much longer to get involved in though is sports. Not outside of sports, like with college football picks, but actually technology in games that can impact outcomes.
For such a long time, everything was left to a referee, umpire, official, whatever you want to call them. And quite often, mistakes would be made; they are human after all. Then one side would be arguing the ref had a bias, or that the decisions affected the outcome. And they may be correct, but whilst those wrong decisions may cause frustration, it added drama and entertainment to the sporting events they took place in.
You’d go into work talking about the game last night, how some of the decisions were dodgy. You might go watch a game, and debate what happened in the bar afterwards with friends and fellow fans. It was all part of the experience, and there were always two sides to every story, so there was lots to discuss.
Now, however, sport is changing as technology has been brought in to update modern games and bring about improvements. And whilst yes, technology may help in bringing about more correct decisions, it has stripped sports of the drama of referees making errors, and has left fans frustrated. Because now decisions are being made with millimetre precision, and it is taking away an entertainment aspect.
So let us take a quick look at some of the technological introductions in recent years and how they impact the sports.
When it comes to American Football, not too much is changing in terms of the way games are conducted on the pitch for officiating purposes. But technology is being used in order to look at sports performance, monitoring things like distance covered by players, heart rates, and how big an impact someone may take when tackled.
This sports tech has two major benefits. Firstly, it comes in handy for coaches to monitor performances, and to identify where players can improve in their performance. But it also has health benefits too, because it can keep track of players, and highlight when someone may have taken a serious knock that would require medical attention, or if someone’s heart-rate was getting too high, signalling risk of cardiac arrest.
One specific piece of tech that has been introduced in the last few years is developed by Zebra Technologies. They place radio-frequency transmitters in player’s shoulder pads to gather data on their performance. These send data to receivers based around the stadium, and they forward them onto coaching staff. Allowing them to monitor in-game performance in real-time.
Cricket is one sport that has been hugely impacted by technology. Each system used to help in officiating the games. One of the first introductions is a system called Hawk-eye, which has since been adopted by other sports. In cricket, it uses six cameras from different angles to record the game, then puts them together to generate a 3D video. Teams can challenge calls, and they will go to Hawk-eye to clarify whether the decision was correct or not.
It gets used for actions like checking against LBW decisions, which is if the ball hits the leg before the wicket. Now if the footage shows it would’ve hit the stump, the player is out, if not, they get to carry on and that team has wasted one of their challenges, which they are allocated at the start of a game.
Another piece of clever technology is called the snick-o-meter, a small microphone located near the stumps. If an umpire is unsure if the ball clipped the stumps, or they call an out and the opposing team challenges it, a small audio clip is played. This records even the most minute of noises, and can pick up even the faintest of touches from the ball brushing the stumps.
One of the most recent introductions into football is the Video Assistant Referee (VAR). It’s a system that can review decisions in games, as well reverse decisions made by referees if their decision is wrong, and considered a clear and obvious mistake. It can, however, only be used in specific situations:
- If there is a case of mistaken identity;
- If a challenge is deemed worthy of a sending off (red card), or the challenge has been judged too harshly;
- If a foul or offside has occurred in the build-up to a goal;
- If a foul is committed inside the box and could award a penalty.
One of the main issues with VAR is the rules and application are different in various parts of the world, and even in each tournament. Some places have it more refined than others, and it has cut down mistakes by referees massively, but there have also been many dubious decisions awarded too. Leading to both fans and pundits alike ridiculing it, and the way the rules of the game are now interpreted for it.
It’s not all bad though, as Hawk-eye, as mentioned above, is also now used in football to much greater effect. Using a similar system, Hawk-eye is used to alert a referee when the whole ball has crossed the goal line so they can award a goal to the attacking team. It’s less open to interpretation, so you don’t tend to get errors unlike with VAR. However, there was a rare case of it not working in the Premier League, and it had an impact on one of the teams playing that eventually cost them their place in the league and saw them relegated.
There are plenty of other sports that use technology too, to both positive and negative responses from fans and commentators alike. And we’ll probably see more developments in the future, but whether they will be as beneficial as authorities hope will be another question. In terms of monitoring performance, it’s definitely a benefit to the coaching side of things, but it’s less well-received it seems when it interrupts the way sports are actually played.