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What does the future hold for technology in football?

Mon 20th Feb 2017 | Money & Finance

With a current estimated value of £5.1bn in the UK alone, the Premier League stands out as one of the most valuable sports market in the world.

The question of whether this can be improved in the future however could, largely, depend on the innovative technological developments the game adopts. But what could these advancements look like?

Back in 2014, “futurologist” Dr Ian Pearson and HTC produced a document called The Future of Football. This sets out predictions for the role of technology in “the beautiful game” over the next five decades.

While there have been small changes to the laws of the game since they were first codified in 1886, many of the game’s ruling bodies have proven resistant to major changes throughout the years. Pearson’s document however does describe some ideas that could be viably adopted, as well as some daft and rather sinister ones.

The bad

Android footballers

A Nike ad from 2014 depicts a world in which robots have taken over the game. The likes of Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Andres Iniesta team up to “save football” from the faceless, clinical clones. Yet Pearson predicts that there will not only be android players, but entire leagues dedicated to robot football by 2060.

You could argue that footballers these days are finely-honed machines. And to a certain extent that’s true. Yet there’s still randomness to human interaction. It’s what makes the FA Cup so exciting, or Leicester City winning the Premier League so remarkable. Leicester’s win is testament to the human spirit’s ability to overcome those who - on paper at least – are better at the game.

There’s no doubt that android technology will be far superior in 40 or 50 years' time. Yet the human element is exactly what makes football exciting. Sure, robots may become able to shoot with more precision (and from a longer distance) than Ronaldo – but wouldn’t that be boring?

Electronic flags and hats

This may become reality in the very near future. Yet the concept of electronic clothing isn’t well defined in the report. At the moment, it’s hard to see that there will be any real benefit to the existence of such items. Despite this, the idea of an electronic hat keeping your head warm on a cold match day is a novel one.

The good

Viewing 

The document predicts that football fans will enjoy 3D simulation and immersion in matches by 2045.

Technology already plays a big role in the fans’ ability to follow and watch their favourite teams. Indeed, with the introduction of 4G fans can now access games on the go via their smartphones. Furthermore, for those who like a flutter, the potential for predicting match outcomes, increased betting options, and online bookies’ return bets could be huge.

Technology also helps garner global support for different teams. Manchester United claim to have 659 million fans worldwide. They retain much of this fan base through online interaction.

Old Trafford has a capacity of 75,635 making it one of the biggest in the English League. Yet – if the club’s claim to such a huge following is true - only 0.01% of its fans can watch matches up close. For this reason, the idea that a fan in Kuala Lumpur – or anywhere in the world – could watch a match as though he/she were in the stadium is an exciting one.

There is also a suggestion that, by 2030, insect-like drone cameras, with live streaking ability, will be used to follow each player and film their antics up close during matches. While probably a bit far-fetched, it still shows the level of creativity possible if the technology is available.

Analysis

As mentioned earlier in this article, football’s ruling bodies are notoriously resistant to change. Former FIFA boss, Sepp Blatter, was once opposed to goal-line technology due to his desire to protect the “simplicity of the game”. Many others still agree with this.

Yet the ability to determine whether the ball crossed the line is surely a good thing. Remember the pain of seeing Frank Lampard’s goal against Germany disallowed in the 2010 World Cup?

The report proposes that, by 2025, referees will use augmented reality as a means of seeing the action from all angles. What’s more, they will be able to zoom in and out at will giving them the ability analyse those contentious dives and tackles that plague the game currently.

Posted by: Aaron Gourley 

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