The rise of tech in modern sport

10 June 2017

At the sharp end of professional sport, the finest margins make all the difference. Records are set, medals are won, and legacies are defined by the tightest of moments – and one flash of brilliance, or the tiniest slip, can change sporting history forever.

Often though, these crucial moments aren’t decided by the athletes themselves. Instead, they’re left in the hands of a referee: one (very brave) official who’s tasked with making all the big calls – and somehow expected to get ALL of those big calls right!

With so much at stake, and mind-boggling amounts of money involved these days, professional sport has followed in the footsteps of many other industries and turned to technology for help – to make things faster, easier and more accurate.

Tennis, for instance, started using infrared systems way back in the early-1980s. Remember those ‘bleeps’ when the ball was out? That was a computer system called Cyclops, which effectively acted as a superhuman line judge. These days, tennis uses Hawk-Eye technology, which tracks the ball all over the court with frightening accuracy. Cricket, rugby union and a bunch of other sports use it too – if there’s ever a dispute, Hawk-Eye clears things up pretty quickly!

Other sports, like football, have been slightly more stubborn. But the success of goal-line technology at the 2014 FIFA World Cup was a game-changer. Since then, pundits, managers, journalists and ex-players have been publicly and loudly championing the introduction of video assisted referees – where an extra official analyses the action on a screen. It looks like trials will be running during next season’s FA Cup, so watch this space…

But it’s not just about getting the key decisions right – and it’s not just about the pros. Tech has been totally revolutionising everything from fitness and performance to sports entertainment too.  So in case you missed it, here’s what’s been going down…

360° views… from your living room!
Since the launch of ultra-modern VR headsets, like Google’s Daydream View and Samsung’s Gear VR, virtual reality has quickly become an actual ‘thing’ in the world of home entertainment. And VR certainly hasn’t been ignoring sport. Just the other night, our friends over at BT Sport made the UEFA Champions League final available for free in 360° virtual reality. That’s right, having given out Google Cardboard headsets in the lead-up to the final, thousands of people watched Ronaldo and co. romp to victory from pitchside seats – without leaving their living rooms. It was very cool. And judging by the remarkable enthusiasm from football fans all over the country, it’ll be no shock to see loads more VR options in sport very soon.

Hooking up to apps and wearables
You don’t have to be a pro athlete to benefit from tech in sport. All over the country, part-time joggers, five-a-side footballers and lunchbreak yogis have been using fitness apps and wearables to track their progress and improve performance. The Samsung Gear Fit2, for example, counts calories and measures your steps throughout the day, and automatically records your exercise, so you know exactly what’s happening at all times. It’s also stylish and comfortable, which is always a bonus!

Performance data and analytics, taken to new levels
Unfortunately for today’s sports stars, there’s no escaping poor performance. Whether you’re a footballer or a badminton player, every moment of action is constantly being captured, crunched, analysed and stored in a database – forever! Wondering how many sprints Harry Kane made last season? Or how many backhand shots Andy Murray made in 2013? It’s all out there, with companies like Opta leading the way in sports analytics. Sometimes these stats are used by journalists in newspaper columns. Sometimes by coaches and managers to improve current players, or to scout potential new ones. And even us regular folk can use them when putting the sporting world to rights over drinks. Whatever the purpose though, there’s no escaping the database!

Making punditry and analysis epic
Before technology took over sport’s TV studios, punditry was a pretty straightforward gig. These days, being a sports pundit is a very different story. With technology now offering a range of camera angles, slow motion replays and loads more interactive features, pundits today have more-or-less become amateur IT specialists – operating confusing-looking touchpad screens and super-techie software. It brings us closer to the game than ever before and allows pundits to offer a deeper level of tactical analysis and insight. And with so many new trials and launches in the pipeline, it seems the marriage between sport and tech has only just begun.

If the thought of watching sport in VR has got you slightly giddy, you can find out more about Google’s Daydream View and Samsung’s Gear VR on EE...


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