For the 2018 FIFA World Cup, everything from the ball to the broadcasting systems has been rigorously innovated and meticulously thought out. The experience on the pitch, in the stands, and viewing at home will all be transformed by new technologies that are set to premiere at this year’s tournament. The last World Cup in Brazil saw the introduction of goal-line technology, which was the first time referees received any artificial assistance in their decision making. This year AI is set to have a huge impact on the games and not everyone is convinced the result will be a positive one. Check out the ways technology is revolutionising football and the biggest competition of all: the FIFI World Cup.
The 2018 ball is called the Adidas Telstar ‘18 – a tribute to Adidas’ first-ever World Cup ball used in Mexico in 1970. It is modelled and named after the world’s first communication satellite launched by NASA in 1962. Politically, the Telstar symbolises a break down of communication between East and West, as it was destroyed by the radiation from the testing of nuclear bombs by both the US and the USSR. Now, in the 2018 Russia World Cup, it connects 32 countries.
Embedded within the ball is a Near Field Communication (NFC) chip, engineered by software company Blue Bite. Essentially a marketing tool, the chip is intended to engage fans by setting them challenges, giving them exclusive access to videos of World Cup players using the ball, and requesting users to post particular photos of them using the ball. The NFC chip does not effect on the games themselves and is solely consumer focused. The chip is so light it is impossible to detect by sight or by touch- no doubt there will still be complaints from, give or take, 32 goalies about slippage or bounce quality.
Video Assistant Referees
VAR is set to make this year’s competition fairer and more transparent. It will correct blatant mistakes, such as allowing or rejecting goals, allowing or rejecting penalties and determining the validity of disciplines. There has been much controversy over the readiness of this technology, many questioning if its development was rushed in order make it to Russia. Sceptics think it will slow down the game, but top referees believe that, although VAR is not yet capable of eliminating mistakes, it can significantly reduce the big blunders. The new system will keep viewers in the loop, with automatically generated television graphics for broadcasters.
4K UHD Video and VR
Whilw 4K Ultra High Definition (UHD) trialled at Brazil 2014, this is the first time it will be made available to broadcasters. For viewers in the UK, the BBC has confirmed it will cater to the latest developments in UHD. The BBC is also providing a Virtual Reality experience for all 33 games, via the BBC Sport VR application. Viewers will “sit” in a private box at the stadium, listen to commentary from Match of the Day, and receive real-time match information.
Electronic Performance and Tracking Systems
EPTS was present in the 2014 World Cup but was only accessible during half-time or after the game. The latest advancements facilitate a fairer competition, levelling the playing field for nations that could not have afforded the technology themselves. Each team is equipped with three tablets- one for an analyst in the stand, another for an analyst on the bench and the third for a member of the medical team. Match footage will be delayed by 30 seconds but be accompanied by stats that depict data player positioning, speed, tackles, passing, and pressing. EPTS functions via two pitch cameras and through the use of wearable technology.
Artificial Intelligence for Viewing
AI brings football into the world of “infotainment,” presenting biographies and statistics about the World Cup players taken from recent articles. Hisense, a Chinese technology company, uses facial recognition to instantly identify any of the tournament’s 736 players. The technology also takes the “red button” concept to the next level, with the app taking you directly to stores where you can buy a replica of a specific player’s kit.
Russia’s government has imposed rigorous anti-terrorism measures, banning aeroplanes and other flying devices, such as drones, around World Cup stadiums. Around 160,000 cameras have been installed in Moscow as part of the “Safe City” surveillance system. Facial recognition technology is present in around 5,000 cameras. The system compares people’s faces with billions of photos that are obtained through VKontakte (Russia’s version of Facebook), in addition to police and passport databases. Spectators have been issued a “Fan ID card,” which is needed alongside their match ticket in order to enter a stadium. Russian legislation requires all match goers, including Russian citizens, to possess an ID card.
New research from Russia-based cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab has warned that more than 20 per cent of Wi-Fi hotspots in host cities do not use traffic encryption, meaning there is a risk of stolen data for anyone who uses them. The lack of traffic encryption at such large-scale events makes Wi-Fi networks an easy target for cybercriminals.