Technology in Sport – Changing the Game

For a number of years now, the use of technology in sports has become more prevalent. At a professional level, many sports now feature decision-making IT solutions (such as V-A-R) but even at grass-roots level we see trends of athletes using technology to measure performance, gather data and help with coaching and training.

Here, Hamilton Forth’s Josh Moreland explores three main technology solutions and asks the question – does it change the game for better or for worse?

 

Wearable Technology – Fitbits / Apple watches, Heart Rate monitors, Smart Glasses

Wearable technology is common practice at all levels of sport. In athletics, smart and wearable technology has been used for some time – even going back to the days of the ‘stopwatch’.

Many keen cyclists will wear watches or carry phones or devices linked to apps (such as Strava or Komoot) to gather data on the performance of a ride: top speed, calories burnt and even individual segments of a route. Heartrate monitors have made an introduction into the professional football and rugby arenas; usually worn on a vest, harness or chest-strap under a jersey.

Verdict: For the better. A report from Augusta University Medical Center determined that wearable devices helped register an 89% reduction in patient deterioration from preventable cardiac or respiratory arrests – whilst other studies have praised the impact that wearable tech has on weight-loss, healthy habits and regular exercise.

At a professional level, Danish football champions Midtjylland have built their entire squad around data and technical analysis gathered from a combination of wearable tech and algorithmic assessments.

 

 Decision-Making Tcchnology (DMT) – VAR, Hawk-Eye, TMO

Decision-making technology has not been without controversy since it entered the world of professional sports. This type of tech is very expensive and so unlikely to ever feature at amateur or semi-pro level, but there are a few examples to examine in the professional sector.

Hawk-Eye was one of the first DMTs to feature in professional tennis and cricket. The artificial optics of Hawk-Eye in tennis have helped to determine whether a ball is ‘in’ or ‘out’, and similarly in cricket, Hawk-Eye has been used to determine whether a batsman should be dismissed LBW (leg-before-wicket). TMO has been widely used in professional rugby to assist referees with incidents related to scoring / preventing tries and also for serious foul play.

VAR is probably the most controversial of this type of tech. Despite being currently used in a number of the top football leagues in the world, it still seems to divide professionals, pundits and punters when assessing whether or not it has actually improved the decision-making process of the game.

Verdict: Jury is out! Although DMTs ‘should’ in theory eradicate wrong decisions in sport, they appear to not always do so. The other major criticism (particularly of tech like VAR) is that it spoils the spectator experience – supporters don’t want to celebrate for fear of a goal being chalked off for offside or a wicket being overturned because of an infringement. The belief is that this actually erodes the viewing experience and takes away from attending the sporting event in the first place.

 

Safety Technology – HANS Device, Ingestible Thermometers

The final type of tech which this report looks at could be loosely defined as ‘safety technology’. The HANS device is a head restraint which now features as a mandatory requirement in almost all motorsports sanctioning bodies. It has been found to significantly reduce the likelihood of head and neck injuries during a crash.

The ingestible thermometer is a type of pill which measures core body temperature and has been used most effectively by mountain climbers and astronauts who require their temperature to be very closely monitored at any time.

Verdict: For the better. Anything which increases an individual’s safety must be considered a success, both in a competitive environment and at an amateur level. A degree of exploration is still required for some of this type of technology, so we are likely going to see more advancements in this area as professionals and groups strive to achieve symbiotic balance between elite performance and athlete protection.

 

One thing’s for sure – the introduction of technology into sport can now be seen in many forms, and for certain products, it is as accessible for an individual as it is for a professional athlete. The criticisms of tech within professional sport generally centre around the idea that it somehow detracts from the simple enjoyment of the sport and that those who have the money and power to introduce the latest tech will be those who benefit, thus potentially de-levelling the playing field.

However, in general when you consider the data-centric world that we live in – the improved spectator experience, the transparency of decisions, the technical interaction with virtual gaming / fantasy sports etc – it is difficult to consider the introduction of technology into sport as anything other than positive.

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