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How technology is shaping the future of football

Jamie Spencer
Football is forever being shaped by new and advancing technology
Football is forever being shaped by new and advancing technology / ALBERTO LINGRIA/Getty Images

Football could look very different in the future as new technology becomes an increasingly important part of the sport. The basic game as we know it won’t change, but assistance from technology could boost both the players and improve fan experience.

Football has already come a ridiculously long way since the first universal rules were drawn up almost 160 years ago. And with society ever more intertwined with technology, football will have little choice but to embrace the tech as well.

“Think micro sensors in shoes and shirts, or even nanochip implants. And, of course, sports fans will also be served increasingly tech-enhanced sports entertainment, with information-enriched viewing like first-person views,” says futurist Richard van Hooijdonk, whose detailed report sheds light on what the future has in store for an ever-changing sport.

“Which football fan doesn’t want to experience what a football player sees, feels, hears, and even senses, and – most importantly – how fast he kicks the ball?”

Technology and training

Technology can help shape training schedules
Technology can help shape training schedules / Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Perhaps the most obvious way technology will continue to be used in football through training to enhance players, taking them to higher levels than ever before.

Heart rate monitors, GPS trackers, advanced monitoring and camera systems, apps to track official games and training sessions recorded by drones are already in use to collect vast information.

Analysing the information can lead to improved performance. Technology, such as adidas smart jerseys used by the German national team tracking distance, speed and pulse, can help optimise training schedules, develop game strategies and even help identify irregularities, patterns or changes in player performance that may indicate an upcoming injury.

Being able to predict certain injuries before they happen could be a huge advancement.

In terms of recovery, experts in Germany have been developing RoboGym, a robotic weightlifting device to help athletes improve performance and shorten recovery time following an injury. It is gentle on joints, preserves muscle strength and also helps prevent injuries. Training exercises can even be adapted to individual players, stored to a cloud and accessed on any machine.

Predicting injuries

Certain types of injuries could be predicted and prevented
Certain types of injuries could be predicted and prevented / Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

Artificial intelligence can be used can be used to discover all-important marginal performance gains by keeping a player in top condition or predicting when an injury might happen.

For example, more than 50 clubs around the world are already using the Zone7 artificial intelligence programme, which inputs data from medical profiles, fitness assessments and wearables to determine which players might be at risk of suffering an injury.

The system provides green, yellow and red indicators for a player’s daily risk level, which gives coaches insight on whether it is necessary to lower training intensity.

An estimated one millions training sessions have already been recorded with Zone7, with the system achieving 95% accuracy and leading to a 75% reduction in injuries.

Player health monitoring

Player health has become a renewed focus following Christian Eriksen's collapse at Euro 2020
Player health has become a renewed focus following Christian Eriksen's collapse at Euro 2020 / Hannah McKay - Pool/Getty Images

Player health monitoring is more important than ever following the distressing scenes of Christian Eriksen’s collapse and resuscitation at Euro 2020, while Iker Casillas had suffered a heart attack in training in 2019 and immediately sought to gain a better understanding of his health.

IDOVEN is a company that has created technology based on artificial intelligence that consists of a monitoring kit continually keeping track of an athlete’s heart while training and resting, with the aim of identifying potential heart problems and preventing them.

It is thought that artificial intelligence can automate the diagnosis of cardiac arrhythmias, saving time and therefore lives through remote diagnosis and early detection.

In-game technology

Developing refereeing technology will take video reviews to another level
Developing refereeing technology will take video reviews to another level / DAVID RAMOS/Getty Images

When it comes to improving the game itself, goal-line technology is now a well established part of elite modern football, with cameras crucially able to determine whether the ball has crossed the goal-line and should be considered a goal or not.

But where the reach of technology could continue is the use of robotic assistant referees, which FIFA could have implemented by the time of the next World Cup in 2022. In fact, robotic assistant referees have already even been piloted at he most recent FIFA Club World Cup.

One system under consideration is Tracab developed in Sweden, making use of AI-driven ball tracking, combined with limb tracking and skeletal modelling. Chyron-Hego, the firm behind Tracab, claims it can ‘determine the exact moment of a critical ball pass and the precise location of involved players and their limbs relative to the goal line’.

It is automatic and can send an alert in the case of an offside, meaning a video assistant is able to review any such incident much faster.

Enhanced fan experience

Viewing experiences are going far beyond fans in stadiums
Viewing experiences are going far beyond fans in stadiums / Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Technology may change ways in which football engages with fans, with virtual reality and holograms potentially a huge shift in the fan experience. A VR headset, for example, can put you anywhere in the world, even allowing supporters to mimic the experience of watching a game in a stadium sat next to a friend, who may well be on the other side of the world.

The advancement of technology could even allow for live hologram broadcasts, allowing fans in an empty stadium to watch a realistic projection of a game as if it was being played there. Japan’s bid for the 2022 World Cup even included promises to develop such technology to make it possible.

Southampton’s new 2021/22 home kit has augmented reality features, which means that scanning it with a smartphone can make players like James Ward-Prowse appear in a fan’s home.

The MLS all-star game in 2018 saw goalkeeper Brad Guzan equipped with a microphone and earpiece, allowing him to directly communicate with broadcasters and be interviewed during the game. This could be further developed to help increase engagement and entertainment.

Another MLS trial of technology saw the referee at the 2019 All-Star game wear a Go-Pro camera, giving fans the chance to live a first-person experience of the match, witnessing close up just how players and officials interact with each other on the pitch.

Click here for the fascinating full article on ‘The future of football is all about high-tech innovation’ by futurist Richard van Hooijdonk and his team.

Richard van Hooijdonk is a trendwatcher, futurist, international speaker and World Economic Forum panellist. Together with his international team he investigates how technology impacts the way we work and live. Van Hooijdonk is a regular guest on radio and television programmes, and his inspiration sessions have been attended by more than 550,000 people around the world. He has more than 1,500 publications to his name, including articles, whitepapers, and e-books

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