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The emerging technologies transforming the FIFA World Cup
Every now and again the sporting world will undergo a technical breakthrough that changes the way we consume the sport itself. Technology that once seemed so advanced — and sometimes controversial — eventually integrates itself into the status quo.
Take tennis as an example, the suspense of Hawk-Eye technology is now as much a part of the Wimbledon experience as the grunting serves or the occasional glimpse of David Beckham in the crowd. We can say the same for goal-line technology in football, and all the way back to the introduction of the ‘photo-finish’ in 1940s and 50s horse racing.
Technology is constantly changing the face of sport and, unsurprisingly, none with such gusto as with the world’s most popular sport: football. The biggest football event in the world, the FIFA World Cup, is the main stage where the best and brightest technologies are debuted under the eyes of millions. At last year’s World Cup in Russia and this year’s Women’s World Cup in Paris, emerging technologies are transforming the game, the experience, and how things are run behind the scenes.
Virtual Assistant Referee (VAR)
Even alongside the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Video Assistant Referee (VAR) was the most anticipated new addition to the 2018 World Cup. VAR technology is used to assist the referee only on decisions that change the outcome of the game. The system works on a three-step process whereby officials recognise a VAR-worthy incident, provide advice (supported by technology that allows the referee to review digital footage of the incident), then make a final decision.
Whether you appreciated the extra layer of scrutiny or not, VAR changed everything in Russia, from the atmosphere on the pitch to the way individuals played (think before you dive Ashley Young, VAR is watching…) And it’s here to stay, with FIFA confirming that VAR will be used at the Women’s World Cup in Paris this year — the first time the technology has been used in any women’s domestic or international competition.
Off the pitch, technology is also changing the way the FIFA World Cup is run behind the scenes — particularly when it comes to the media. At large-scale events like this, competition is high between broadcasters. Everyone wants the best footage and breaking news. When the stakes are this high, transferring large quantities of precious data can be daunting — particularly as it is commonplace for journalists to use unsecured foreign SIM cards to do so. But last year, many of the world’s biggest broadcasters turned to a new solution: eSIM.
eSIM (or embedded SIM) removes the need for a physical plastic SIM card. All important information is stored and kept secure over the air by a single supplier back on home soil. As a leader in the development of eSIM technology, Truphone worked with some of the biggest global sports broadcasters at the FIFA World Cup in Russia to ensure all captured content and conversations were kept safe while keeping the media connected to the action.
The 2018 World Cup in Russia was the first time wearable technology was permitted at a World Cup event. Electronic Performance and Tracking Systems (EPTS) were introduced to create a direct line from player to coach through data. EPTS was onboarded in Russia to give teams access to match footage and player statistics in real time. The technology was implemented to lessen the chances of player injury and improve general performance.
Like VAR, the need for EPTS in the game is disputed by fans and professionals alike. In an interview with Engadget, the Secretary of the International Football Association Board (IFAB) Lukas Brud said of the technology: “I’m a bit worried about these things, because if data says you’re shit but you still score goals more than anyone else, then how can you really judge a player’s performance?”
There is a reason we cite these technologies as ‘emerging’ — they are in the early stages and their presence — in a game treasured by so many — is not always welcomed with open arms. But like tennis and racing before it, we can only assume that technology will play a major part in modernising the game and won’t be getting the boot any time soon.