world cup 2018 var

VAR shows why tech can be a force for good

John Crossley

03 Jul 2018

It’s a sporting spectacle on the grandest of scales. But the introduction of the video assistant referee to this year’s FIFA World Cup in Russia has taken football to new heights of entertainment. VAR, as it’s known for short, has shown itself to be a hugely welcome addition to the sport, with millions of football fans tuning in around the world. Adding video technology into football on the face of it feels, well, a bit 2001. It’s been widely used in cricket, rugby and tennis since the early noughties. The beautiful game has long resisted the introduction of similar technology over fears it would break up the flow of a match while a refereeing decision is made. But having watched a fair amount of this year’s tournament, I can only come to the conclusion that it’s the perfect addition for a watching TV audience. Key moments are replayed over in the most minute of detail, the letter of the law applied to each decision. There’s agony and ecstasy on the field. VAR is something which should be incredibly dry. Instead it offers the utmost in drama and entertainment. VAR to me is a great example of how the right application of technology can bring about improvements to all walks of life. Be that sport, culture, business or the wider economy. It’s helped the on-field referees (for the most part) make the right call. It’s not been perfect straight away, but while the issues are ironed out it has still helped produce one of the most memorable World Cups in memory. With the stakes so high, and when national pride is on the line, who wouldn’t want the referee to make the right decision? VAR spells the end of absolute howlers – no more ‘Hand of God’ moments deciding the fate of a whole tournament and the mood of a nation. Technological change can often be met with fear, when in fact it can make things better for everyone.

Three ideas for future tech in sport

While top-flight football has hauled itself into the 21st century, in technological terms video feels like a small first step. I’d be fascinated to see how and when we can start applying more ‘current’ technologies to the enhancement of sport. The betting industry has already embraced mobile and big data, and those who fancy a flutter are able to bet on everything from the big result to the obscure outcomes, all in real-time. But what else? Here are a few ideas for sport  to have a look at:

1) Internet of things (IoT)-connected players

The lifeblood of sport is statistics. Imagine being able to see and analyse the performance of players on the pitch in real-time. Sensors could help us see if a player has taken a challenge or not, eradicating diving from the game. Neymar, I’m looking at you. And if all the player data was made freely available, fans (not just coaches) could see how hard individual players are working, opening up new insights into how the game is played. It would also be a dream for anyone taking part in the TechJPR fantasy football league.

2) Robo-refs – introducing the AIAR

I’m not suggesting a full robotic takeover. Humans must always have the final say on decisions. The application of the laws of association football in strictly black and white terms doesn’t always go to well when it falls into the greyer areas. How about an AI assistant ref (or AIAR) instead? You might only need one official on the field, with an AI acting as linesman, fourth official and video referee all simultaneously. The AIAR would be able to recommend decisions on all aspects of the game in an instant, with the final call made by the human referee. They’d also get the opportunity to review it themselves on screen if they choose.

3) Blockchain ticketing

I’ve said the B-word. But ticketing is a prominent use case for blockchain. It would cut out touting, forgery and fraud at least. For the optimists among us, you’d then hope the savings from this could be passed on to fans, making sport more affordable to watch and enjoy. Have I missed any off? What future tech can we bring into sport to improve it for the better? Leave a comment below and share your ideas! Image sourced: Wikipedia