For example, when dimples were introduced to golf balls, balls were able to go farther than ever before. When radar speed guns were brought into the picture, baseball scouts were able to get a better idea on a pitcher’s abilities. When Kinesio taping made its debut, athletes were able to treat and prevent certain injuries without inhibiting their range of motion.
The Impact of Technology in SportsDespite its name, new technology in sports isn’t new. Technological innovation is a revolving door in which one trend comes and replaces another. And as we saw above, sports technology advancements have served to improve whatever sport they’ve been introduced to. For example, seeing as how we’re currently in the thralls of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, let’s start there.
2018 FIFA World CupWe’re well underway the 2018 World Cup and, from what we’ve seen so far, the role of technology in sports is clearly evident. Case in point, video assistant referees (VARs) that were written into the Laws of the Game by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) in 2018 to give referees additional support and information to make better calls by reviewing decisions (with a multimillion-dollar impact) made by the head referee.
Used in all 64 matches of the World Cup, VARs have access to all relevant broadcast cameras and two dedicated offside cameras, and can review four types of calls: goals and whether there was a violation during the buildup; penalty decisions; direct red card decisions (second yellow cards are not reviewable); and mistaken identity in awarding a yellow or red card. As to how they come into play, VARs can recommend to the referee that something worth reviewing has happened, or the referee himself can ask for help. After the incident has been reviewed by the VAR team, the referee is advised and can either make a decision or review video footage himself for better insights.
Apart from VARs, we also have goal-line technology that uses 14 high-speed cameras to signal within one second to the referees when the ball has crossed the goal line, helping referees catch whether or not a goal has been properly scored to create an even playing field. This type of technology actually supported the referees in three incidents at the last FIFA World Cup and a similar amount at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada.
Apart from what we just saw and are seeing in the current World Cup, we also have the Adidas Smart Ball with integrated sensors that record strike point, speed, spin and trajectory when kicking ball for instant feedback to improve abilities, the Nike+ platform that tells athletes how high they’ve jumped and how fast they run, Under Armour’s E39 compression shirts with chest sensors to measure heart rate, anaerobic threshold, aerobic capacity, muscle heat and more, and a wide array of other technologies that are all improving sports.
How Has Technology Improved Sports?
However they come, these devices are collecting data and using it to create statistics that allow for detailed analysis of both team and individual player performance. For example, as we touched on earlier, sensors in balls and the field can recognize when a ball has gone out of bounds. Shoes in sensors can similarly determine if an offside has actually happened. Wearable technology, like Under Armour’s tech-enhanced shirts, can monitor vital signs and anomalies in heart rate, etc. to prevent or lessen the impact of heart attacks, and further warn coaches and club doctors when something’s amiss.
Apart from the game itself, sensors in stadiums can monitor the crowd and notify officials if they become unruly or if too many are crowding, preventing something like the Hillsborough disaster from happening again.
Technology in Sports: Good or Bad?Even though it seems as though technology in sports is a good thing, those against it say that it will ruin the fun and charm of the game. Proponents, on the other hand, say no. After all, how charming is it if a player is rolling on the ground *cough* Neymar *cough* from the smallest incident? Additionally, isn’t it the mistakes that ruin the fun, such as Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal in the 2010 World Cup?
When it comes down to it, yes, it’s true that some things shouldn’t be replaced, such as umpires in baseball that have become a staple of the sport, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be enhanced with technology to make their calls fairer and truer.
Final ThoughtsTechnology is revolutionizing sports — there’s no doubt about it. When paired with AI, it can catch and eliminate refereeing errors like some of these controversial World Cup refereeing decisions, or help athletes improve their playing and reach peak performance.