More than VAR
How are technologies changing sport?
This year’s World Cup is already being hailed as historic by virtue of its timing (the first time it is being held in November and December) and location (it is the first time a World Cup has been played in the Middle East). It may also be the most innovative – this is where semi-automatic offside technology will be used on a large scale for the first time. The days when VAR was considered a debatable novelty are behind us – innovation is entering the sport on various levels. How are they changing sport?
– The question of how innovation is changing sport can be answered with the example of football, which only resembles its predecessor of 50 years ago thanks to a few unchanging rules, known in every latitude. The world of sport has already made a decision from which there is no turning back – technological innovation will remain its immanent feature for a long time to come. The SportsTech industry is mainly focused on helping referees make the right decisions, improving the safety of players and analysing data, says Tomasz Snażyk, president of Startup Poland, a foundation that, in cooperation with Totalizator Sportowy and PARP, has just released a report presenting the most interesting examples of innovation development in sport.
Support for judges
We will soon be able to see how technology can support referees. At the World Cup in Qatar, semi-automatic offside detection technology will be used on a large scale for the first time. Cameras are designed to track the ball and 29 points on each player’s body, up to 50 times per second calculating the exact position on the pitch.
Integral to the whole system is the official ball of the upcoming World Cup in Qatar – the Al Rihla. Inside it, a sensor will be mounted that will transmit data on the ball’s movement 500 times per second, which, according to experts and researchers, will translate into the ability to determine the precise moment of the pass.
Once all the data from both the cameras and the ball have been collected, the system will automatically show the VAR referees the moment of the pass and draw the offside line. The referees’ only task will then be to confirm whether the artificial intelligence has assessed the game correctly. The whole process is expected to take just a few seconds.
Support for coaches and players
Artificial intelligence can support not only referees, but also coaches and players. Already in 2015. The International Football Association Board (IFAB) decided to make changes to football regulations by allowing coaches and players to use tracking devices, namely Electronic Performance & Tracking Systems (EPTS).
Today, EPTS are a whole group of solutions aimed at improving the quality of training and influencing players’ performance during matches. These range from small devices installed on a player’s outfit, complex camera systems to sophisticated GPS-based positioning systems. Each of these supports the analysis of a footballer’s behaviour and movements, but at the same time can also check their health. This allows us to find out how many kilometres a player has run during training, their level of fatigue, if and when their performance has decreased. What’s more, we also have the possibility of reducing the risk of injury. There are already ideas on the market for innovative clothing with special sensors to not only detect injuries, but also to predict their occurrence.
Startups have found yet another niche – talent search, where artificial intelligence takes on the role of scout. There are already platforms available that analyse not only the stats of well-known footballers, but also enable the collection of videos and other information from small, local football fields, sent in by football fans.
New fan experiences
The field of innovative companies operating in the sports industry also includes fan relations. “Sportify” – that is, sport in the age of social media – requires the latest technology. Interactive content, analytics or integration with data are gaining in importance. An example of this is the True View solution developed by Intel, which allows games to be viewed from any perspective, such as watching the action from above, around the stadium or even from inside the game.
Practical solutions are also important in fan relations – with facial authentication technology, stadium entry can be more efficient and fans do not have to stand in long queues. In addition, predictive analytics can help predict what attendance is likely to be, as well as how many fans will turn up at the stadium.
Polish start-ups and Polish funds
It can be expected that there will be more and more SportsTech projects on the Vistula – special funds are being set up to support the development of this sector in Poland. One example is ffVC Tech & Gaming powered by Totalizator Sportowy.
– The projects we invest in as part of the ffVC Tech & Gaming fund relate to sectors that are close to Totalizator Sportowy, i.e. gaming, fintech, regtech, AI, cyber security, robotics or enterprise software. ‘We believe that thanks to innovations, sports will develop̨ at various levels: from advanced data analysis, through training support for players and teams, to technologies facilitating the settlement of sports disputes in the spirit of fair play,’ emphasises Olgierd Cieślik, CEO of Totalizator Sportowy.
The authors of the report emphasise that Poland can look with satisfaction at the direction of development of innovations in sports, because although many novelties are still to be implemented, in terms of signal creation, transmission or innovative solutions we can observe without envy, and often also outstrip Western trends.
– As a rule, Polish sport is becoming more professionalised, forced by the international competition itself, as well as by sponsors, the media, fans and local residents who want to have good infrastructure at their fingertips. Taking a closer look at specific elements, we can also see various areas on which we need to work intensively. It is worth noting that micro, small and medium-sized companies, for which PARP works, employ the most people and contribute to the Polish GDP. Their products and services are of interest to the main players in Polish sport, but there is still a lot of potential to be developed. In order to bring these worlds closer together, PARP creates space for cooperation through incubation and acceleration programmes (as part of the Acceleration Programmes implemented under the Intelligent Development Programme) or educational programmes. The broadly understood world of sport and the companies cooperating with it successfully use the educational offer (training, counselling, mentoring, postgraduate studies) within the services offered by PARP,” notes Mikołaj Różycki, Deputy President of PARP.
You can read more about the potential of the SportsTech sector in Poland and possible barriers to its development in the latest Startup Poland report created in cooperation with Totalizator Sportowy and PARP. The report had its premiere during the 4th congress of the Sport Business Association Poland.
The report can be downloaded free of charge from the website :