Featured Image – Source: FIFA (EPTS Technology)
No matter where you look in 2018, one of the all-pervasive themes in technology, governance and business is the role data and its means of collection play in our ever-changing world. This year has brought considerable controversies to light, like major digital privacy breaches and the inability of governments to protect their citizens and even elections. But at the same time, it has marked a new era in what is possible with data collection, particularly when applied to emerging technologies such as autonomous vehicles, machine learning and the development of artificial intelligence. One of the few places I didn’t expect to see data defining the narrative, however, was in Russia for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
If you’ve had the chance to follow along with this year’s rollercoaster of a tournament, you’d know that there have been advancements in the technology of the game, which have brought about a fundamental shift in how it is played. The introduction of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) has gained considerable attention as soccer has maintained its lonewolf-like status of major competitions that do not benefit from video reviews. What hasn’t been the focus is the debut of a sensor-driven Electronic Performance & Tracking System (EPTS), which for the first time ever, FIFA has provided to each team’s coaching staff to analyze players positioning, speed and movements across the pitch.
Source: Adafruit “How EPTS is changing the game of soccer”
Much like how Goal Line Technology (GLT) employs powerful cameras and sensors to determine the exact location of the ball in relation to the goal line, EPTS gives teams real-time data via wearable sensors embedded in players’ jerseys that interact with a strikingly advanced optical tracking system installed in each stadium. The results are delivered in the form of two mobile tablets for each team, one for an analyst high up in the stadium and another for an assistant coach on the bench, who are then able to interact and dissect the information digitally across the network. How a team decides to use the data provided is up to them (and is probably still limited at this time), but as this technology grows and becomes increasingly more common among major clubs around the world, it’s good to see FIFA exercising its power to help bring other nations (that perhaps have yet to really dive into the potential of EPTS) along for the ride.
For many fans of football (soccer), the idea of big data fundamentally changing one of the most simple and elegant games of all time may be a bit of a buzzkill, but for the players, trainers, and coaches competing for what is arguably the most coveted title in all of sports, it’s likely a welcome development. While we still haven’t heard much yet from the teams in this year’s tournament about how EPTS has affected their strategy and play, the cool thing about data is its relatively useful shelf life and all the ways there are to interpret it, including the ones that haven’t even been invented yet.