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Tech in sport: the best is yet to come

The Commonwealth Games has kicked off on the Gold Coast and it’s a great example of collaboration between technology and sport.

common wealth games Australia

The last time the Games was held in Australia (Melbourne, 2006), there was no WiFi. Facebook was in its formative years and Twitter had just launched. The 2018 Games has a private, high-speed network that connects key sites across Queensland, making it the most digitally connected Games in history.

Such rapid technological advancement has impacted on how we consume sport and how it is played.

Social media, live streaming, wearable technology, virtual reality and mobile applications now gather data on every aspect of a game, team and athlete. This data is converted into insights that improve consumer engagement, accountability and performance.

And while the use of technology in sport is not ground-breaking news, the rapid integration of sport and technology over the last decade would have jocks and geeks united in their disbelief.

tech in sports

Closer to the action

As recently as five years ago, we were limited to watching our favourite sports on television. While this is how 70 per cent of Australians still watch sport, only 45 per cent of us consider it to be our preferred method. This is because we can now easily access sport on our phones, tablets and laptops. It has brought us closer to the action and connected us with people around the world who share our passion.

Highlights, stats and results are at our fingertips, and personalised content is sent to our devices in real time. Live streaming content online and investment in app technology has reinvigorated consumer engagement in the AFL, NRL and Women’s Cricket. Live streaming on social platforms is becoming commonplace as Facebook and Twitter leverage opportunities to connect with profitable demographics.

Growing interest and accuracy

Technology has improved consumer knowledge and engagement in sport, most notably in tennis and cricket. It has also increased the accuracy of referee decisions.

Motion, audio and heat-sensing technology allows officials and spectators to scrutinise every play in minute detail. In fact, Cricket Australia’s cheating scandal was only confirmed because matches were filmed and later reviewed.

Improved performance

Reviewing data is also beneficial for athletes. Coaches can use existing footage of their athletes or opposing teams to identify strengths, determine areas for improvement and evaluate strategy.

In 2017, the NBA implemented vision technology that tracks players on the court. By analysing video feeds, coaches can evaluate player movement, relative not only to the ball, but also to other players.

Similarly, connected tennis rackets are now used in training to gather data on shot power, spin and where the ball strikes the racket. The rackets also measure technique, endurance and consistency to improve training and performance.

Measuring and reviewing an athlete’s biological information is also advantageous. Data on anaerobic output, vital signs, nutrition and hydration gives valuable insight into training load, health management and coaching.

Wearable technology from New Zealand’s I Measure U (IMU) sends real-time feedback on an athlete’s movements to their coach via an app. For example, IMU’s waist sensor measures how high an athlete jumps. This information can signify that the athlete is fatigued or injured, and coaches can adjust training methods accordingly. The technology is being used by NBA team and the Chelsea Football Club.

The technology in Speedo’s LZR racing suits minimises drag, maximises muscle support and increases buoyancy. During the Beijing Olympics in 2008, swimmers wearing the LZR suits were responsible for 23 of the 25 world records broken. FINA (the International Swimming Federation) banned the suits in 2010, deeming them a technological advantage.

What comes next?

The fact the LZR was banned does not diminish the achievement of its development. However, it does highlight the struggle between the speed of technological advancement and the sports industry’s ability to adapt.

Despite this, it is exciting to think about how technology will shape the future of sport.

Virtual reality is already offering fans an immersive experience unparalleled by traditional media. And augmented reality has evolved rapidly since entering the sports industry in 2016.

Officials for the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020 are planning to roll out autonomous taxis, robot assistants, instant translation apps and hydrogen-powered athlete villages.

Apple is working on integrating the technology of the Apple Watch into site-specific wearables. In addition to measuring heart rate, the garments would also determine the load on a muscle during exercise. This technology would give real-time data on the body’s biological response to an activity.

Another thing to consider is the growing popularity of eSports (video game competitions), which is redefining the definition of athlete. In 2017, the Olympic Council of Asia confirmed that eSports will be included in the 2022 Asian Games. This is a step towards recognising the talent, training and skill required in competitive gaming.

And if you thought playing video games isn’t the same as playing sport, you’re wrong. Since 2013, the USA has recognised eSports players as professional athletes. It will be interesting to see if the rise of eSports leads to a decline in interest and investment in mainstream sports in the coming years.

Whatever the future holds, the calibre of digital and technology professionals in the industry today means the best is yet to come.