It’s under a fortnight until this summer’s soccer European Championships kicks off in France. But while the basics of the game have barely changed since its rules were cast in 1863, there will be plenty of technology on show at this year’s tournament that will, many hope, bring the game into line with other tech-heavy sports like tennis, NFL and cricket.
Whether that will make the ‘beautiful game’ better is up for debate. What isn’t, is that the world of tech and soccer are merging – and in Euro 2016 the two will never be closer. Here are some of the top things to look out for, ahead of the first match between France and Romania on June 10th in Paris.
Drones have already caused mayhem at major soccer matches – just see the chaos that ensued following Albania’s controversial qualifying tie with neighbor Serbia in October 2014. To prevent a similar incident – or perhaps something even more sinister – the French authorities have announced they will be using a number of anti-drone measures, including some they won’t divulge.
No-fly zones “will be defined over every training ground and every stadium, and in most stadiums and for most matches anti-drone measures – which are quite innovative – will be deployed, working with the state, which will interfere with drones and take control of them if they are spotted,” Euro 2016 security chief Ziad Khoury told the Associated Press this month.
Khoury admitted the task is a big one considering how rapidly drone technology is advancing. But, he added, “Let’s say it is a dissuasive measure that didn’t exist at previous sports events.” A training exercise in April imagined a drone carrying chemical agents, something the press has particularly fretted about in the weeks leading up to the tournament, whose attendance is expected to surpass 2012’s edition, in Poland and Ukraine, which attracted 1.44 million spectators, by 30%.
Goal-line technology is already in use in domestic leagues such as England’s Premier League and Germany’s Bundesliga, and made its major international debut at 2014’s World Cup in Brazil. In the run-up to this year’s tournament there was something of a goal-line Cold War, between GoalControl, which was used by FIFA two years ago, and the Hawk-Eye system that, aside from being favored in the U.K. and Germany, is in wide use in tennis, rugby and cricket matches.
In the end UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, chose Hawk-Eye – the product of Basingstoke, UK-based Hawk-Eye Innovations – and hopes to implement it at the Champions League, the continent’s most prestigious club competition, next year. Its final in Milan last week already used the multi-camera platform. “We looked at it seriously…and finally we decided to start with Euro (2016) and then move on to the Champions League,” FIFA head Giovanni Infantino said.
Watching in Virtual Reality
Virtual reality is big news in 2016 with the proliferation of manufacturers, games and even a special-made VR arcade, in Canada. Unsurprisingly soccer has become a key component of companies’ VR ambitions. And at this year’s Euros one team will be getting the full treatment.
Nokia’s OZO camera has already been test-driven at the final of this year’s Champions League. Now the Finnish firm says its cutting-edge technology will live broadcast for the first time – with England’s charges getting the full VR treatment.
Each of the Three Lions’ matches will be filmed in 360-degrees, with some Wales, Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland getting the same footage. The company said it will offer viewers a “fully immersive virtual reality experience.” Don’t expect the OZO to be coming to homes soon, though: each eight-lens, eight-microphone model costs a whooping $61,000. But the platform is gaining plenty of traction, including a Hollywood deal with Disney. Soccer will be a great place to show off the tech.
Wearable Tech for the Win
Two years ago Germany’s victorious World Cup squad used Adidas’ miCoach devices to monitor everything from speed, heart rate and distance run during training sessions. It was hailed as a benchmark in the sector – and just two years later its use – and success – is widespread. For example this year’s surprise English Premier League winner Leicester City used Catapult Sport’s OptimumEye S5 device, which can monitor 800-900 data points per second. It is one of the major reasons, experts surmise, that the club’s players suffered the fewest injuries of any top-tier side.
Wearables are already a big part of contact sports such as American Football and rugby, with GPS and other technologies allowing coaches to evaluate and predict performance, and to see injuries coming up ahead. With broadcasters making more use of data than ever in match analysis, expect segments of this year’s Euros coverage to look more like a betting sheet than soccer show. Bewilderment aside, however, wearables in sport are here to stay – and their use will be more widespread in France than ever before.