All aspects of life are currently being revolutionized by technology. The world of soccer is no exception. The new soccer technology that is being used in the 2018 World Cup in Russia shows how sport is undergoing its own digital transformation.
In the 1970 World Cup, the original Telstar ball was designed with black and white panels to make it stand out on the black and white televisions at the time.
Flash forward to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Here, everyone was abuzz with the introduction of goal-line technology. This AR system was the first step towards artificially enhanced refereeing.
In the 2018 World Cup, we have already begun to see just how far technological innovation has come since. In Russia, VAR, wearable tech, psychological advancements, smart footballs and 5G are all having a major impact both on and off the pitch.
Here are five amazing examples of World Cup tech that are being used in this summer’s tournament.
1. The VAR Debate
This year’s tournament has both shocked and surprised us and must be driving punters insane. In a twist of fate, Germany, the defending champions, were beaten by South Korea and knocked out in the group stages of the tournament.
This is the earliest stage Germany have left the competition since 1938. This early exit is largely thanks to a last minute goal allowed by VAR. It makes me wonder -f- is World Cup tech at the root of this turbulent tournament?
If you have been following the World Cup this year, you’ll already be familiar with VAR. In the lead-up, the VAR debate graced many headlines this year. Video Assistant Refereeing (VAR) promises to improve the accuracy of refereeing decisions from 96% to 98%. The system, which has been a long time coming, was already successfully implemented in rugby, tennis, the NFL, and even cricket. After much deliberation, 2018 marks the introduction of VAR to soccer.
But how does VAR actually work?
The idea behind VAR is that referees can turn to a video referee for help when making important game changing decisions such as penalties, fouls, goals, and mistaken identities.
The system uses all the camera footage from the stadium to transmit footage back to a Video Operations Room (VOR). In the 2018 World Cup, the VOR is located in the International Broadcast Centre in Moscow. Here, three assistant VARs closely evaluate the footage transmitted from 33 broadcast cameras. Two additional cameras are solely dedicated to capturing offside movements. Eight of these camera feeds capture footage in super-slow motion and four in ultra-slow motion. At the knockout stages of Russia 2018, there will be two additional ultra-slow-motion cameras added.
After viewing the different camera feeds, the assistants inform the referees of any mistakes or missed incidents. They are only turned to when the referee requests their assistance. The final decision rests with the referee as normal and they can go against the VAR if they don’t agree.
Much skepticism has surrounded the introduction of VAR to the World Cup. One major issue that arose was that VAR would affect the speed and flow of the game. Another was the referees’ lack of experience with the system.
In the Serbia vs. Switzerland match this week, we saw a referee decide not to consult VAR in a potential penalty situation. The Serbs were outraged and, from a viewer’s perspective, it was clearly foul play. However, the ref had the last word and his decision stood. Similarly, in the England vs. Tunisia game, two penalties were not given when VAR wasn’t consulted.
Some critics have called referees out for their closed-mindedness when it comes to using VAR. However, referees have undergone extensive training for the introduction of this new world cup tech. During training sessions, they have been advised to continue to trust their instincts on the pitch, even putting them before VAR.
So far, we’ve seen VAR making a huge impact on how soccer is being played. Penalties which would not have been given without VAR, like the one for Argentina against Iceland, or the two in the France vs. Australia game, have fundamentally changed the flow and outcome of these matches.
VAR is relatively new and some believe it to be “ruining the game”. So far, VAR is an example of World Cup tech that seems to be bringing an elevated level of fairness and closer analysis to the game that was previously severely lacking.
2. Wearable Tech in the 2018 World Cup
Wearable tech is quickly becoming more and more prevalent in sport. The 2018 FIFA World Cup is no exception. The International Football Association Board (IFAB) only decided to allow wearable technology in soccer in March 2015. This year marks the first time this tech will be used in a World Cup Tournament.
Electronic Performance and Tracking Systems (EPTS) are a major innovation that all 32 teams are using throughout the event. EPTS is a tablet-based system that gives coaches access to player statistics and video footage in real-time.
The system works using a combination of optical tracking cameras and, of course, wearable tech. For every team, there is a tablet for an analyst on the bench, one in the stand, and their medical team.
The camera and wearables work together to collect data and relay it to the tablets. The collected data includes match footage and statistics like player positioning, speed, tackles, and passing.
EPTS can also be hooked up with heart-rate monitors as well as other devices to measure physiological parameters.
This world cup tech is used to collect data which, once evaluated, can help to improve player and overall team performance and help to prevent injury. The best thing about EPTS is that it’s designed to be non-invasive so doesn’t infringe on the player’s performance.
3. Sports Psychology in 2018
Fitness data and analytics has been center stage (or rather midfield) in sport for as long as we can remember. The next World Cup tech trend we can see starting to emerge is the optimization of players’ mindsets. Just as physical strength can be trained and developed, so can mental endurance.
Can you imagine standing in the middle of a huge stadium, surrounded by fans, being watched by millions, with the fate of your team and the glory of your country resting on your shoulders? The word antagonizing comes to mind.
In soccer, one kick could be the difference between being a national hero or zero. How do these players perform under such immense pressure?
The agonies and ecstasies of sport can be major contributors to a player’s performance. Sports psychology is beginning to take a more significant role in professional soccer.
Mind Games are no new Thing to World Cup Teams
Psychological tactics aren’t exactly new to the game. They first appeared in World Cup soccer as early as 1962. During the 1962 World Cup, Chilean players employed an interesting psychological tactic of pre-game stereotypical eating. Before their 3-1 win over Switzerland, they ate Swiss cheese. Next, they wolfed down spaghetti before their 2-0 victory over Italy. They even went as far as downing a few shots of vodka in the hopes of beating the Soviets. It worked and they came out the other side with a 2-1 victory over their rivals.
The miraculous technique was only faulted in the semi-final against Brazil. Despite being fully caffeinated going into the pitch, espresso wasn’t enough. Chile was finally beaten by Brazil 4-2 in what must have been the worst caffeine crash of their lives.
Today, the psychological tactics prescribed to teams are a little less outlandish and perhaps more scientific.
Psychological techniques including calm breathing, visuomotor behavior rehearsal or the use of mental imagery and muscle relaxation are being used by team psychologists to focus player’s minds and reduce stress prior to major matches. Other techniques like positive self-talk and mental warm-ups are beginning to work themselves into pre-match routines.
However, some more unusual psychological tactics were still used by teams such as Germany in this year’s tournament.
The German coach Joachim Low banned players from seeing their other halves and children during the tournament. Social media was also prohibited for certain players. All in the name of reducing distraction and keeping mental focus. Looks like this tactic didn’t work though. Maybe Toni Kroos missed his 18.4 million Instagram followers a little too much.
It has to be said this advancement is not, strictly speaking, technology. However, the introduction of psychology into the world cup is set to have a huge impact in the future of the game. Could it be the World Cup’s first steps towards biohacking?
4. Smart Footballs are the Latest Craze in World Cup Tech
Based on the first ball Adidas manufactured for the FIFA World Cup in 1970, this year’s ball has undergone a serious technological upgrade.
In 1970, the original Telstar ball’s biggest innovation was that it was designed with black and white panels to make it stand out on the black and white televisions at the time. The 2018 Telstar is miles ahead and could be described as the world’s first smart ball used in an international tournament.
The version being used in this year’s 64 matches features a new high-tech carcass that promises to improve performance durability in the stadium and on the street. It also comes in fully recycled packaging, which is an added bonus.
“Telstar 2018”’s most impressive innovation is that that it includes an embedded Near-Field Communication (NFC) chip. This chip enables the ball to interact with smartphones.
Anyone who uses Apple Pay or Android Pay will have used NFC technology before. However, the 2018 World Cup marks the first time an NFC chip has been used in a match ball.
All going well, we can expect footballs to only get smarter in future tournaments. Perhaps going the same direction as Adidas’ miCoach Smart Ball which uses sensors to track metrics.
However, if the “Telstar 18” is set to be the smart ball trailblazer, it’s going to have to master the basics firsts. Like, say staying inflated for the duration of a match.
5. 5G in Russia
Fifth on our list of World Cup tech had to be 5G.
With the first standalone 5G network being only being approved last week, the 2018 World Cup came just too early to employ this technology.
However, the World Cup has kicked off Russia’s 5G efforts. Network trials are being run by the official communications partners of the World Cup throughout the tournament.
5G networks promise to deliver faster speeds, greater capacity, and ultra-low latency. Although the tech won’t be commercially available until next year, soccer fans are benefitting from enhanced connectivity in seven of the eleven host cities.
This year’s World Cup hosts the largest deployment of Massive MIMO to date as well as the installation of 5G-capable radio equipment at over 40 sites including stadiums, transportation zones, and famous landmarks such as Moscow’s Red Square.
The first match of this year’s World Cup took place on June 15 in Krestovsky Stadium in St, Petersburg. The match during which saw Russia’s 5-0 victory over Saudi Arabia was streamed to viewers in a 5G zone over 600km away in Moscow.
Better in-stadium connectivity is just the beginning of the possibilities 5G networks will offer at future sporting events. Fans also got to taste the possibilities of 5G at this year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeong Chang. Here, 5G helped to deliver 360 degree VR video to broadcasters. This year’s Super Bowl was also streamed by Verizon in VR via 5G networks.
This is just the beginning of the possibilities 5G will bring to the sporting world.
This year, we have seen the very best of soccer. And, in the current digital age, no global event would be complete without the very best of technology being used to enhance it.