You do not need to watch too many games to know that referees have limited visibility and they too can make mistakes. Technology can change this by helping them make better and more accurate decisions. There are many technologies that can assist a referee on the ground (central referee) or through the third empire who is looking at the game from outside the ground (video-assisted). If you do not think these technologies are necessary, just imagine for a while how hard it is to keep an eye on all players on the ground at one time while closely keeping watch on the ball.
Given below are a few technologies that have started to impact and transform the field of sports, although on a restricted basis so that no harm comes to the spirit of the game.
Video replay system
Virtual reality (VR) and 360-degree cameras give referees an unprecedented view of the action. A video replay system (VRS) is used in many sports including basketball, football, cricket and rugby. Basketball referees use it to make sure players are shooting within the time allotted by the shot clock. They use replay vision to review last-touch decisions in the final two minutes of the game.
In rugby, VRS with synchronised camera views is used to improve decision-making. It is also used by the medical staff to identify possible concussion instances.
In football, the technology is used to decide whether a ball has passed over the goal line, and to clarify penalty decisions. In football, there are four types of calls that can be reviewed: goals, penalty decisions, red card decisions and mistaken identity in awarding a card.
In many games like cricket and football, the video-assisted referee reviews video replays of the event, and informs the central referee via wireless radio on a headset worn by the latter in such situations as disputed catches and boundaries, run out decisions and so on.
Hawk Eye technology
This includes a computer and a camera system to trace a ball’s trajectory. It is used in international cricket, tennis, soccer and many other sports. It uses six or more computer-linked TV cameras placed around the field. Views from different TVs are then combined to produce an accurate 3D representation of the path of the ball. The technology then traces the ball’s trajectory and sends it to a VR machine.
High-speed cameras are also used to take 600 frames a second on, for example, goal-line of the football.
This technology allows broadcasters to showcase other features of games like cricket, such as comparing bowlers’ speeds, spin, swing, line and length. In the case of leg-before wicket (LBW) decisions, it can project the likely path of the ball forward, through the batsman’s legs, to see if it would have hit the wicket. Images captured through high-speed cameras focused on the ball can also measure ball speed (revolutions per minute), showing how fast the ball was spinning after release.
Goal detection system
This is a radio-based system that uses low-frequency magnetic fields to determine whether or not the whole ball has passed over the goal line in a game of football. There are two magnetic fields: one in the goal area, and the other created in and around the ball. Data is processed and then transmitted wirelessly to the referee’s wristwatch. A message is displayed in real time on the watch.
Goal-line technology is used to determine if a ball has crossed the goal line, to support the referee. A smart ball loaded with a sensor suspended inside can also be used. It utilises a network of receivers around the field designed to track the ball’s precise position in real time. In football, goal-line sensors were introduced as part of goal-line assessment to give a definitive decision on whether the ball had crossed the line.
Used for cricket, this technology comprises a sensitive microphone embedded in one of the stumps and connected to an oscilloscope that displays sound waves. When the ball hits the bat, the oscilloscope trace picks up the sound. The trace is shown in a slow-motion video to the TV audience.
From the shape and timing of the sound wave, the viewer can determine whether the sound came from the bat hitting the ball or from some other object like a leg-pad. A short sharp sound is associated with a bat on the ball, while a bat hitting the pad or the ground produces a flatter sound wave. The umpire does not get the benefit of seeing the snick-o-meter, and has to rely on his/her judgement or refer to the third umpire in case of any doubt.
Technologies to track the health and performance of athletes
Game analysis generates statistical descriptions of gameplay. This allows coaches and players to identify the strengths and weaknesses in their own and opponent’s game strategies. Field-based assessment and analysis help athletes of all sports to achieve their full potential for optimal sports speed. Laser-based Fast technology is one such highly accurate speed and acceleration testing and training system that calculates a runner’s force, acceleration, speed and time.
Wearable devices that can monitor heart rate are integrated with tracking technologies such as GPS, accelerometer and gyroscope sensors to describe athletes’ movements and physical demands. These can assess the number of collisions and jumps that occur during a match, knowing exactly where and how the players move on the field. Athletic trainers use such data to plan training sessions and use technologies to provide measurable training routines, customised for each athlete. Team doctors can utilise heart rate and sensors data to prevent injuries when players are about to exceed their physical thresholds.
Other technologies to support intelligent decision-making in sports
Helmet cams and lasers are used to compliment run-out decisions in the game of cricket. Sensors in balls and in the boundary rope are used to determine if the batsman is out or has hit a boundary (four runs). A stump camera is used to determine close catching decisions. Umpires need feedback about whether a front-foot no ball has been made. It can be in the form of a beeping sound if the bowler crosses the popping crease. This helps them focus on what the batsman and fielders are doing.
Inertial sensors have been developed to test a bowling action during matches to see if the bowlers are bending their arm too much during delivery. These sensors are lightweight, cost-effective and wearable on the bowler’s arm. These do not hinder the bowling performance while still allow the information about the bowling action to be assessed in near real time in both match and training environments.
Benefits of using technology in sports
Rules enforcement and referee assistance. Decision referral systems, Hawk Eye, hot-spot, shot-tracer, radar guns and snick-o-meter help administrators deliver a fair and an unbiased experience in sports.
Training and coaching support
Wearables and electronic devices can be attached to an athlete’s body, clothing, footwear or equipment to track critical information such as heartrate, speed, distance and so on. This, in turn, can be used for the athlete’s development.
Media and reach
The Internet, high-speed cables, apps, HDTVs, blogs, social media platforms and the like have brought sports deep into our everyday lives, and have created a wider connect between sports and their fans.
Improved audience experience
Organisers are working to deliver an enriched audience experience through live HD screens, services on order and other in-stadium engagement services.
Better sports equipment and clothing
Improvements in the design of sports equipment and apparels have improved almost every single aspect for athletes. Sporting equipment is continually undergoing research and development to improve performance. Stronger and lighter steel is being used in the manufacturing of sails, bicycle tyres, football boots, tennis rackets, helmets, body armour and more.
Raving cycles and rowing shells made of lightweight but strong materials minimise the drag through air or water.
The development of sports equipment and apparels is an industry in itself, as it creates an opportunity for investment and employment. In the context of professional sports, not only vital data of athletes but also environmental data is relevant. It is therefore not surprising that all other physical objects (such as bats, gloves, balls or even the floor) are increasingly being enriched with sensors that collect data and provide insights to players, coaches, fans and regulators.
Future of technology in sports
As technology adoption improves in India, the next stage of sport-tech will be the use of different platforms to deliver integrated data and analytics to enhance the total sports experience. New technologies will spot doping and cheating, improve athlete safety and timely injury prevention, and prevent over exhaustion.
Real-time data and information will become available for crowd management, coaching programmes and training schedules. Statistical data will drive decisions on scoring patterns, team and athlete performance.
With changing shape and materials used in sports, like tennis rackets and football boots, technology has changed every dimension of the sports industry. Innovations have made sports safer and more accurate. But caution must be paid to ensure that sports remain accessible and fair. The challenge lies in ensuring that technology facilitates sports and not overshadow the core skills of the athletes.