With the World Cup just a few days away, let’s take a look at some of the tech that’s going to be in action both on and off the field at the world’s biggest sporting event.
Stats & Player Insights
A deal between FIFA and sports data company, STATS, will see media provided with deep historical insights on each matchup, 24 hours in advance of the game (allowing Andy Townsend to amaze us all with his knowledge when Iran take on Morocco). More interestingly, STATS will also be providing live in-game data that should allow commentators to give fans more meaningful, richer insights into how the game might unfold.
For the first time at this World Cup, teams will have access to live in-game positional data for every player on the pitch. The snappily-named Electronic Performance and Tracking Systems (EPTS) will use a pair of optical tracking cameras (no wearable devices) to log positional data for every player and the ball. This data will be made available on two tablets per team – one for an analyst in the stands and one down on the bench.
The big news is the use of video assistant referees (VAR) for the first time at a World Cup. Refs will have a link to a team back in Moscow to help with tough decisions around goals, penalties, direct red cards and mistaken identity. While VAR has largely been successful in getting to the right decisions, it’s still in its early days in football and is certain to lead to some highly controversial moments.
A more reliable aid to referees is Goal-line technology, provided by GoalControl. Seven high speed cameras will be trained on each goal to capture a 3D position of the ball and give an immediate confirmation of whether it has crossed the line. As we all know, had this been in place in 2010, England would certainly have won the World Cup.
The ref-tech doesn’t end there. Each of the men in black will be issued with a $5,000 Hublot “Big Bang” smartwatch to wear during a game. It looks like a proper high-end watch, but what does it do, apart from tell the time and have a stopwatch? The smart-ness in these is aimed more at (wealthy) fans because you can select your team, get match and goal alerts and do all the other things you’d expect from an Android smartwatch. However, the refs’ versions will be linked to the Goal-line tech and the pitchside referee boards showing added time.
The ball is usually the most talked-about product innovation at any World Cup. For a good few years, the story was how much rounder the ball was than any previous version, but we’ve clearly reached peak round-ness because this time adidas aren’t majoring on that. The Telstar 18 is based on the 1970 Telstar design, but features tech like thermally bonded panels that should help it to fly straighter. The main innovation, though, is an NFC chip embedded inside the ball. This won’t have any performance uses, but will allow users to unlock “consumer experiences” via their phone or smartwatch. It’s not too clear what these experiences will consist of, but it’s something you definitely couldn’t do with a Mitre Multiplex.
On the footwear front, Nike have focused on fit with their Mercurial Superfly 360, claiming almost zero “foot slippage” and therefore better performance in an incredibly lightweight boot. They’ve also re-engineered the stud design to give more grip at the front of the foot and to help quick shifts in direction.
adidas, meanwhile, has the Nemeziz 18 which will be worn by Leo Messi amongst others and features an Agility Weave forefoot and Supportive Agility Bandage (again, it’s about making the foot feel as tightly wrapped as possible inside the boot).
Nike’s England kit is all about enhanced breathability (just like every England kit since about 1462) provided by Fast Fit Vaporknit fabric. One new development is “anti-cling nodes” on the player numbers to prevent said numbers from sticking to the player’s back when things heat up. Let’s hope it’s this bit of detail that makes the difference.