The FIFA World Cup 2022 kicked off in Qatar on 12 November. This mega event embraces a few new technological innovations for the first time and is hailed as the most technological World Cup ever, with a vast amount of effort going into gaining this credit.
Besides deploying many new innovative IT applications for the first time, World Cup 2022 has the distinction of being the first to be held in the Arab world and the first one to take place in November and December. Furthermore, for the first time in men’s World Cup history, female referees are officiating the games; there are three women among the 36 tournament referees.
Technology plays a major role in World Cups, the Olympics, tennis tournaments, and other sporting events. Technology-enabled applications highlight key moments, present insightful analytics, and offer other useful features. They also assist players by providing helpful information about them, other players on their team, and competitors and offering valuable insights and suggesting ways to improve their performance. Television channels, mobile apps, and online platforms present viewers with action-packed episodes of the game, up-to-date highlights, real-time analytics, expert analysis, and reactions from Qatar and around the world.
This Advisor series examines the new technology-enabled innovations that World Cup 2022 is embracing. Here in Part I, we explore a few of those changes, including: semiautomated offside/goal line technology, a high-tech revolutionary World Cup ball, and artificial intelligence (AI)/big data applications that are transforming the sport. We also briefly examine some of the failures and threats these technologies introduce.
These innovations inspire us ― IT professionals and the IT industry ― to look at significant real-world business and societal problems from different viewpoints and embrace technological advances to solve those problems.
Semiautomated Offside & Goal Line Technologies
Revolutionary semiautomated offside technology supports referees and helps them make fast, accurate, and reproducible offside decisions during matches. It is an evolution of the video-assistant referee (VAR) technology used at the 2018 World Cup and later implemented across the world. To address major limitations of VAR technology, FIFA has opted for this World Cup a semiautomated offside technology and evaluated it for its full potential in this game.
With the aid of 12 dedicated cameras mounted under the roof of the stadium that monitor 29 distinct strategic locations such as limbs and extremities on every player and the position of the ball, semiautomated offside technology automatically draws the lines that establishes whether or not a player is onside, eliminating the need for the strenuous manual drawing. This technology shows exactly where each player is and quickly determines whether a player is in an offside position. Additionally, sensors embedded within the ball (discussed in more detail in the following section) send data at a remarkable rate of 500 times per second to the video operation room to determine the exact moment a pass is played, enabling better judgments to be made.
Decisions are made off the field in less than five seconds. To guide the referee on how to proceed with the game and keep fans in the loop, a 3D animated video of the incident is shown on big screen monitors in the stadium. The semiautomated offside technology will also alert the VAR every time a player in an offside position receives the ball. To remove human error, this year the World Cup is using a new type of goal line technology, which sends the decision to the referee, instead of the referee needing to look at the camera and decide on his or her own.
A High-Tech Revolutionary World Cup Ball
Another innovative product is the Internet of Things-based match ball of the tournament, known as “Al Rihla.” The high-tech ball, used for the first time in the 2022 World Cup, encompasses the Adidas Suspension System, an inertial measurement unit located at the center of the ball to sense the motion and an ultra-wideband sensor that’s superior to GPS or Bluetooth for sensing precise position. This high-tech ball employs “connected-ball technology” and transmits real-time data to VAR officials. This injects unprecedented data and information into the game. As mentioned earlier, the ball technology also collaborates with the semiautomated offside technology, enabling referees to make better and faster decisions.
AI, ML & Big Data Applications
AI is driving and influencing the World Cup in a few different ways. It is being embraced in never-before-seen ways to transform football (soccer): improving coaches’ decision-making processes, scouting and recruiting talent, AI-assisted wearables to monitor players’ health, letting coaches know when a player is predicted to get injured, enabling cameras to follow all the moving objects on the field without the need of a human operator, controlling the temperature at stadiums, and predicting and managing fan swelling.
The Alan Turing Institute in the UK has also developed an AI model to predict the winner of the World Cup 2022. Using data from every World Cup since 2002, the model predicts Brazil as the potential winner. Several other novel on-the-field and off-the-field applications embrace AI and machine learning (ML). Nowadays, developing and maintaining a successful team depends heavily on reading and acting on data sets. Big data analytics can assist coaches in developing their players and devising new tactics.
Addressing Failures & Threats
Besides innovating, developing, and implementing new technologies for major sporting events like the World Cup, innovators, developers, and operational teams need to address often overlooked aspects such as: what happens when technology or applications fail (and in the event of failure how to handle the situation), what plan B or even plan C is, and more importantly, testing and evaluating contingency plans ahead of the game.
Game organizers and security teams have to examine the risks of potential physical threats and cyberattacks and proactively implement appropriate safeguards and protective measures. For instance, carrying out a terror attack using drones at large sporting events like the World Cup is now much easier than in the past, as the technology is cheaper and easier to obtain. To fight against potential drone attacks, the World Cup is ready with interceptor drones that will bring down and relocate threatening drones near stadiums. Another challenging aspect is performance testing and evaluation of the IT infrastructure and applications under several usage scenarios.
Part II of this series extends this conversation by examining a few other technologies, including advanced live streaming, access for the disadvantaged and easy navigation for spectators, stadium enhancement, and drone food delivery within the stadium.