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Analysis: The state of sports technology in 2019

Sep 16, 2019, 6:06 pm

Technology in sport is a hot topic these days, thanks largely to the introduction of video assistant referee (VAR) to the Premier League for the 2019/20 season. The use of video technology has already had a big impact on football around the world and caused plenty of debate. However, while VAR is relatively new to football, technology has been used in other major sports for many years now. Here, we take a look at how technology is used in sport and the impact its head.

Tennis

One of the most recognizable sports technologies is the Hawk-Eye system used in tennis. This is used to judge whether the ball bounces in or out of bounds on the court. This system is extremely precise, being accurate to within 3.6 mm. Four high-speed cameras are used to triangulate the position, speed, and direction of the ball and produce computerized images. Hawk-Eye takes into account factors like how the ball skids and changes shape as it hits the ground to ensure it accurately maps the ball’s path.

This technology comes into play if a player believes a line judge’s call is wrong, and players can make up to three incorrect challenges per set, with an additional challenge granted it goes to a tiebreak. Hawk-Eye’s SMART Replay technology can also help officials decide tight decisions on line calls and foot faults, and the system has greatly improved the fairness of tennis since its introduction in 2002.

Tennis also utilizes net-cord sensors to help decide whether a service should be called a let or not. These are placed on the top of nets and detect vibrations. The first – introduced all the way back in 1974 – was an electric guitar pick-up, though custom devices are used in modern tennis.

Cricket 

Cricket is another sport that uses Hawk-Eye. It was introduced in 2001 and is used to trace the exact path cricket balls take after being hit. This can be used by third umpires – who operate off-field in certain competitions – to check whether a ball has gone out of play and judge leg before wicket decisions. Third umpires are also able to use video replays to judge on decisions. Like in tennis, cricket players can request reviews of particular decisions, which are referred to the third umpire.

Test-match umpires have been able to refer some decisions to third umpires since 1992, but the formal Umpire Decision Review System and player reviews were brought in in 2008 for Test matches, 2011 for One Day Internationals, and was first used in a Twenty20 International in October 2017.

Another cricket technology is Hot Spot, which is an infrared imaging system that uses two infrared cameras positioned at opposite sides of the ground. These cameras are used to judge whether the ball has struck the batsman, bat or pad by detecting heat friction. While technology has generally helped improve the accuracy of decision making in cricket, Hot Spot has at times been a source of controversy due to the fact that it can be fooled by bat tape, with some even calling for its removal.

Rugby 

Since 2001, Rugby Union has been using television match officials (TMOs) who are able to use video replays to help make decisions relating to tries and kicks at goal. TMOs can only rule on decisions when asked to by the referee. Rugby Union then introduced Hawk-Eye technology at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Before the introduction of Hawk-Eye, TMOs had to ask TV producers to rewind various camera shots to make decisions. Hawk-Eye is far more efficient, providing access to simultaneous and synchronized replays, in multiple-angles and both real-time and slow motion. It also allows TMOs to zoom in on any shots in more detail, making a decision both faster and more accurate.

Another way in which Hawk-Eye technology is used in rugby is through its SMART Replay technology. This provides footage and replays to match doctors either pitch side or in the treatment room, allowing medical teams to assess head injuries in real-time. This means that Hawk-Eye technology has improved the safety standards of rugby games and made it easier for players to get the prompt and correct treatment.

Football 

The Premier League has seen a number of changes this season, including a ban on gambling adverts during matches, a winter break, and a new handball rule, but none of those are as significant as the introduction of the video assistant referee (VAR). VAR allows both off-pitch video assistant referees and on-pitch refs to review video replays in the case of offsides, goals, penalties, red cards and mistaken identity.

Despite being designed to improve the fairness of football, VAR has caused plenty of controversies. Issues include inconsistency, referees still making contentious decisions, and delayed decision making. The last point is a particular issue, with there being many instances of referees taking several minutes to make decisions, which has taken the emotion and thrill out of football for many fans.

One technology that has had a much smoother integration into football is goal-line technology. First introduced at the 2012 FIFA Club World Cup, the technology has had a huge impact on the sport, essentially eliminating any margin for error when it comes to deciding whether the ball has crossed the line and giving decisions within seconds. There are many high profile examples of goals being awarded or disallowed incorrectly, such as Frank Lampard’s ruled out strike against Germany at the 2010 World Cup, but goal-line technology means these errors are a thing of the past.

Of course, these aren’t the only sports that use technology – in fact, nearly every sport uses technology in one way or another. While certain technologies have proved controversial, it’s fair to say that as a whole sport has definitely become fairer thanks to the use of systems such as Hawk-Eye. As technology further advances, it’s likely we’ll see more innovations, improvements to current systems, as well as the introduction of technology to lower-level sports competitions.

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