Technology in Sport

Sport is a weird concept. It is difficult to comprehend the root purpose of sport and why human nature has such a vested interest in the phenomenon. Perhaps it is linked to the ancestral human instinct to be the best person or tribe at an activity in order to compete for survival. I believe that sport has replaced battles of the past, where teams and individuals will give it their all for victory. I have always been a sports fanatic and with working in the IT industry, it was only natural to develop an interest in the technology used in sport.

The first “point of order” that must be considered is the relevance of technology in sports. A fascinating case study is the results of the Olympics Men’s marathon over the last century. In the 1904 Summer Olympics, the American Thomas Hicks took home gold for the men’s marathon event with a winning time of 03:28:53. Just over one hundred years later, in the Rio 2016 games, the Kenyan Eliud Rotich recorded a winning time of 02:08:44. Some may argue that the 1 hour 20-minute improvement is attributed to the change of physical conditioning for the human body. However, there is little doubt that sporting technology, such as improved footwear, running surfaces, data reliant training schedules and real time body monitoring devices, has contributed to the caliber of athletes in the today’s world.

The sporting world has benefited tremendously from the breakthrough of bio-medical advances over the past few decades. Smart devices that have developed from the biomedical industry allow for real-time heart rate readings, accurate distance and speed measurements that use GPS technology, as well as calorie burning calculations. This advanced use of modern technology not only enhances the performance analysis for professional athletes, but is now available for fitness laymen through most commercial smart watches and phones.

Technology is not only present in the performance enhancement aspect of sport but also the officiating of professional sports. The first and arguably most used form of technology is the instant TV replay. Crucial decisions in important sporting fixtures are often easily made with the help of a slowed down action replay, that otherwise would be impossible to make in real time. More recent review technology has elevated the power of the decision review with the inclusion of “ball tracking” technology.

These technologies consist of complex computer and camera systems that – according to Public Understanding of Science – can track the position of a ball within play with an error tolerance of 3.6mm. This has led to an ever growing array of sports adopting such systems such as tennis, basketball, baseball, rugby, cricket and most recently football. The inclusion of “goal line technology” in football was somewhat controversial due to high tradition and long history associated with the game. However, most professional football games today have goal judgment results sent immediately to a referee’s watch for real-time, accurate decision making.

The leader of decision making technology is by far cricket. The ball tracking technology used in cricket has been adapted to use statistical inputs and specialized cameras to predict the trajectory of a ball to adjudge Leg Before Wicket decisions. Heat sensitive cameras are used to detect a slight increase in temperature on a bat to adjudge whether a batsman has edged a ball. Similarly, edges are also detected with sensitive microphones.

Technology has had a major impact in sport for the athletes that take part, the officials of the game and even for the spectators. I foresee the world interest in sport only growing in the years to come and technology will be forced to grow with it. It is an exciting time in the sport technology development cycle and there is high anticipation for new technologies still to be introduced in sport in the near future.

Written by : Julian Zeegers