Special feature: How tech is changing sport forever

How many meters does a rugby player run during a match? Ask GPS sensors. Do you need to analyse data points live during a basketball match? Ask the program on your laptop. New technologies are affecting sports more and more, from football to soccer, from tennis to cycling.

Many believe that this has taken some of the fun out of it, but the truth is that it simply makes it easier - both for sportsmen and referees - and to be more accurate - for those who need numbers and statistics like journalists.

GPS can now be used to track players on the pitch GPS can now be used to track players on the pitch

Having several cameras around a pitch, for example, has a major effect on how players are analysed after and during competitions in almost every sport. The ability to look at a performance on-screen and make judgements on it has allowed coaches, analysts and referees to look at individual elements of a performance and make the right decisions.

This tech is out there right now

How is it going in Italian Serie A, where such technology made its debut this year? Not that bad, even if there are still cases where even cameras couldn’t find the perfect solution. Cameras are not only present on the field, they are now also found in the training regimes of the athlete, for better performances and better chances of success.

This year ‘La Liga’ also made further strides to enhancing viewer technology through a laser wall made by Intel. This allows a more accurate viewing of the offside line, like the VAR system in Italy, creating an augmented reality view of when a player erroneously crosses their field of play.

Employees of test institute Empa do trial runs with goal-line technology Employees of test institute Empa do trial runs with goal-line technology

Roger Brosel, head of content and programming at La Liga, says: “The laser wall is tracked through a camera and follows the ball in play, and is able to confirm if a referee calls out a player as offside,” he said in an interview. The laser wall is also the latest technology to be implemented in the Spanish football league, to enhance viewer experience and assist referees in the accuracy of their job.

Having the ability to train at a consistent level, with readings appearing on a screen on the handlebars is not the future anymore - it is happening in cycling. Cyclists can train in accordance to how much power they are pushing through the pedals, monitoring their performance live through this technology. Team Sky, for example, use power meters, but the way they utilised them changed the way that every professional team trains.

GPS trackers are a game-changer

GPS sensors have allowed rugby, football, soccer and basketball coaches to see exactly where a player is at any point during a match, then look at their movements after and see how these can be changed to improve the athlete or the play itself for the upcoming matches.

Footage from TV cameras can now be run through measuring software Footage from TV cameras can now be run through measuring software

These kinds of sensors are constantly getting smaller, smarter, lighter - almost invisible, being able to pick up the most minute information at the highest quality. And soon, thanks to wearable tech, they will be embeddable within everyday clothing, allowing for complex measurements to be taken constantly, improving analysis a step further. Not only for pro athletes, but for everyone.

The benefits of analysing millions of data points

Firstly, you can look at the tiniest successes or failures within any performance, and recreate or remove particular conditions. Secondly, everything an athlete does can be interconnected and assessed to divide a performance into different elements. Thirdly, your coach can improve your performance after every training session and match, pursuing the perfection that everyone wants to reach.

They can find a 0,1% improvement in any part of a performance, this will then give them a slight advantage, but if they can find this number in several areas then they can add to a greater improvement.

Through the use of data analytics, another part of new technologies, it allows the tiniest details of an athletic performance to be studied and screened, seeing where small improvements can be made and how athletes can improve their chances of success.

US Anti-Doping Agency strip Lance Armstrong of 7 tour titles US Anti-Doping Agency strip Lance Armstrong of 7 tour titles

It’s clear that when speaking about tech and sports, technology greatly helps the whole world of sport from athletes to Wada, the World Anti-Doping Agency. In its constant struggle against drug and doping, technology has helped WADA push forward the use of drug testing. Cyclist Lance Armstrong or track sprinter Dwayne Chambers, for example, wouldn’t have been found guilty just ten years ago. Now, thanks to the latest findings in tech, the playing field in many sports has been levelled. Technology has helped to find some of the biggest drugs cheats in world of sport.

On the other hand, it has given faith in performances back to athletes and the public, too. Before, when an outstanding individual performance or record happened, some sportsmen were treated with suspicion. Today, thanks to this technology, athletes have a new fellow by their side to prove their clean results and show their fans they are 100% reliable.

Words: Cecilia Mussi

Images: PA

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