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Aleksander
Jess
Technical
02.07.2024 | 5 min

Innovation in Football. EURO 2024, and Beyond

The time has come. All football fans from Europe and beyond rejoice as it’s time to watch the best teams from the continent compete against each other for the bragging rights, and the title (sorry Mike, it’s not coming home). Even though Sweden or Norway didn’t qualify this time, Denmark is proudly representing Scandinavian football. Together with the new cup, there are many innovations that recently made their way onto football pitches of today, and many more are on their way. In this article, we will look at the newest innovations in football, including the ones that debuted during this year’s EURO.

Innovation in Football. EURO 2024, and Beyond - 2024 10
Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Wearables
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  • Mixed Reality (XR)
  • Conclusion

Introduction

The time has come. All football fans from Europe and beyond rejoice as it’s time to watch the best teams from the continent compete against each other for the bragging rights, and the title (sorry Mike, it’s not coming home). Even though Sweden or Norway didn’t qualify this time, Denmark is proudly representing Scandinavian football.

Together with the new cup, there are many innovations that recently made their way onto football pitches of today, and many more are on their way.

In this article, we will look at the newest innovations in football, including the ones that debuted during this year’s EURO.

Internet of Things (IoT)

What’s the one thing everybody wants but only one player can have? That’s right, the ball. You’d think that there’s nothing ordinary about balls. In reality, they’re quite extraordinary. This summer, for the first time ever during a UEFA Euro, match balls have lightweight sensors inside sending data 500 times per second. The data is then combined with data from 10 cameras tracking players’ movement, analyzed by AI, and sent to VAR referees who can then tell when a player touched the ball with their hand, for example. The new innovation already came in clutch in the Slovakia vs Belgium match, where thanks to the Connected Ball technology, Slovakia took all 3 points from the team from the small Western-European country.

More Examples of IoT-Enabled Solutions

Another innovation powered by IoT are smart stadiums. It’s no secret that entertainment exists for the fans & spectators. An IoT-enabled smart ticketing could reduce the lines at stadiums, and drastically reduce the queues both before and after matches.

Furthermore, if you ever had a hard time getting to your seat, your smartphone could act as a guide connecting to a system at the stadium, leading you to your destination. There are numbers on the seats, but sometimes it’s hard to find your way around the sector, especially in the heat of a match.

Wearables

Wearable tech still has some way to go, but it’s still finding applications in today’s football. Wearable technology is rapidly changing the way football is played and analyzed. While many technologies are still under major development, wearables are already offering valuable insights into player performance, pushing the boundaries of what's possible on the pitch, and on the training grounds.

Today's wearables, like the familiar vests players wear under their shirts, collect a whopping 660 data points per second. These sensors track everything from distance covered and sprint speed to heart rate and fatigue levels. The real-time data lets coaches make informed decisions throughout the game. They can identify fatigue in players, adjust tactics based on exertion levels, and even optimize training regimes based on individual player needs.

Wearables can also play a crucial role in injury prevention. By monitoring physical stress levels, coaches can identify players at risk of overexertion and adjust training loads accordingly. Additionally, wearable data can help medical staff diagnose and recover from injuries more effectively. You can also more accurately tell who is giving their all, and who isn’t.

Recently, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) has approved the use of leg-based sensors, promising even more granular insights into player movement and mechanics. Expect advancements in areas like:

  • Biometric monitoring: Tracking vital signs like blood oxygen and muscle fatigue for a more holistic picture of player well-being.
  • Performance optimization: Using AI to analyze player data and suggest personalized training plans for peak performance.
  • Injury prediction: Leveraging machine learning to identify patterns that indicate a higher risk of injury.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

While wearables are transforming player performance, AI could have an even bigger impact.

We've already seen a glimpse of an AI-enabled future with the introduction of Video Assistant Referees (VAR). This system utilizes AI-powered semi-automated offside detection. Cameras track players and the ball, feeding data to an AI that instantly calculates offside positions. While VAR has its share of controversies, it represents a significant step towards utilizing AI for more accurate calls.

AI Referees

AI referees are a promising prospect. In theory an AI could:

  • Eliminate human error in judging whether the ball has crossed the touchline or byline. The calls are so close sometimes, that no human can ever match the level of precision required. AI will have a set of high-resolution cameras and sensors to work with.
  • Assess the severity of a foul based on factors like player speed, direction of impact, and ball contact, leading to more consistent foul calls.
  • AI could instantly recognize potentially dangerous tackles, allowing referees to intervene more quickly and prevent serious injuries.
  • Take decisions quicker without the need to pause the match and communicate with VAR.

While AI offers exciting possibilities, there are also concerns. Critics argue that the ability to understand the flow of the game, manage player emotions, and make subjective calls based on experience remains an irreplaceable part of refereeing. Furthermore, another con is the fact that AI exhibits biases of their creators. Of course, humans are even more biased, but that’s besides the point.

Despite all cons, AI referees hold potential for improving the fairness and accuracy of football officiating. And yes, they are closer than you might think.

Mixed Reality (XR)

Not everybody can travel across continents. For example, if you’re an Asian fan of Zlatan or Haaland, it could be the case that you can’t travel to Malmo or Bryne to see where both of these players debuted. In the future you could just watch an immersive match streamed to you in real time from Norway or Sweden. But that’s just one of the applications.

During training, coaches could use Augmented Reality (AR) overlays to display statistics of players in real time. Why? They could be highlighting plays, formations as well. It could maximize the benefits of training.

Lastly, think of conducting physiotherapy sessions remotely. If somebody can show you how to perform an exercise hundreds of kilometers away, then perhaps injuries can become less frequent.

Conclusion

Football is the most popular sport on Earth. As we cheer for Denmark, England, or any other country, each major tournament will look differently. More, and more, innovative solutions will find their way on football pitches of tomorrow. Whether we like them or not, we have to think if they can make the game more fair. The answer in the majority of cases is a resounding yes.

That’s usually the case with innovative technologies. They usually make our lives better in some way. Whether it’s about decreasing our reliance on fossil fuels, developing new battery types, or more efficient photovoltaic panels. Using tech for good is the way, whether it’s in football or the energy industry.

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