Football is slowly coming out of the dark ages and allowing teams to analyse data in real time

Currently football managers and their staff aren't allowed to use electronic devices in the dugout that would allow them to analyse matches and make changes in real time. Now with huge clubs like FC Barcelona want that to change, we look at the arguments for getting technology on the bench

On May 22, 2016, the English national football team beat its Turkish counterparts by two goals to one. Like many England matches, no one really remembers the match for anything that happened on the pitch because the game’s real incident came when Turkey’s manager, Fatih Terim, incensed by an offside goal being allowed, paced the touchline watching a replay of the goal on his phone. Eventually, as cartoon steam started to escape out of his ears, Terim showed his findings to the fourth official, but rather than use the make the referee aware of the mistake that had been made, the fourth official appeared to confiscate Terim’s phone.

Unexpectedly, rather than being just another dull England friendly, the game has become known for highlighting the uneasy relationship between football and technology. In the England -Turkey case, the information Terim took from his phone was used to harangue the match officials, but the information gleaned from having electronic devices available to managers could them allow to make better decisions and more effective contributions. This is the opinion of perhaps the world’s greatest football team, FC Barcelona.

“Sports need to change its rules, and do things to adapt knowledge to the match,” says Raul Pelaez, head of sports technology at FC Barcelona. “Specifically, in football I imagine that in a few years we can see staff on the bench with laptops seeing in real time the performance of the players. Now it is not possible because it’s not allowed – to have electronic devices on the bench. I think it needs to change.”

Punish behaviour not tech

Football is often accused of burying its head in the sand when it comes to introducing new technology. It took years for football to accept the usefulness of goal-line technology, and while it is now permitted, it’s still not a requirement in the world’s major leagues. However, despite its Luddite approach to introducing tech, football’s lawmaking body, the International Football Association Board (IFAB), is currently consulting with football’s stakeholders on the subject of introducing electronic devices into dugouts around the world. The problem, as it sees it, is that introducing technology could turn football (even more so) into a game between the haves and the have nots, and ultimately create unfair advantages between competitors.

“We wanted to avoid [the situation where] teams who are financially disadvantaged, who will not have access to information in the technical area, feeling disadvantaged [compared]to teams who have financial resources and [can afford] to analyse tactics and player movements,” says IFAB Secretary, Lukas Brud.

Fatih Terim examines his phone versus England. Featured image courtesy of Kostas Koutsaftikis / Shutterstock, Inc

That argument ignores the fact that football is already fundamentally unequal – if one club can afford to pay a reported £89.3m, not including wages, then how can other football clubs with more modest budgets compete with that? But Brud admits that apart attempting to make football fair, the IFAB also wants to avoid situations like the one Fatih Terim caused against England.

“We want to avoid people in the technical area, whether they’re players, coaches or technical staff, being able to see replays that can be transmitted to the technical area,” says Brud. “The technical area needs to remain clear of those devices because we can’t control them.

“We will be doing a survey with all the member associations around the world to see if we should potentially allow these kinds of technological devices in the technical area, but punish behaviour not the use of it. In other words, if a team is using it without having any impact on their behaviour towards the match officials or the other team then that’s fine. If they approach the referee and say ‘I just saw on the replay that you made a massive mistake’ then that should be punished,” explains Brud.

“We cannot control what is happening in the technical area right now because the devices are becoming smaller and smaller, so information can be accessed easily nowadays, and the fourth official’s role is not to check whether a player has hidden or has a mobile phone in his hand.”

Laptops on the bench

Former Southampton manager Harry Redknapp once famously barked at his performance analyst: “I’ll tell you what, next week, why don’t we get your computer to play against their computer and see who wins?” But despite Redknapp and others’ protestations, the introduction of technology in football cannot be avoided, although, as Barcelona’s Pelaez points out, “the most important thing is still the ball and the players.”

Brud says that the IFAB is currently discussing whether to allow medical staff to use electronic devices, like tablets, so that they can assess injuries quicker

Brud says that the IFAB is currently discussing whether to allow medical staff to use electronic devices, like tablets, so that they can assess injuries quicker and have access to potentially vital resources. According to Brud, this will likely be approved the IFAB’s AGM in March. While that would be a positive step, the move wouldn’t allow for managers and coaches to analyse data in real time, although Brud says depending on the outcome of its conversations with football’s stakeholders this position may change come the time of the IFAB’s 2018 AGM.

“We need to identify if that’s what football wants, so we will liaise with all the different stakeholders around the world to find out if coaches, players, referees, competition organisers – whoever is relevant to this debate – whether or not we should allow the technical area to use technological devices,” says Brud.

Eventually we may have reached a situation where football managers have access to real-time, player-performance data, but don’t count on them being able to transmit this data onto the pitch electronically anytime soon.

“If players on the field of play can receive a signal from a communication device from the coach or from his staff, then this may be prone to the potential misuse by potential match fixers,” says Brud. “This is a big business and we want to avoid and to support any mechanisms to avoid match manipulations.”

The desire to avoid signals being sent from match fixers to players is understandable, but it’s odd that no such worries were identified when officials were given communication devices, and, like players, they also have the power to change the course of a match.

Given the IFAB’s position, it’s unlikely we’ll see football managers being able to stop bellowing nonsensical orders from the touchline anytime soon, but it’s inevitable that football will introduce increasing quantities of technology in the coming years. The football dugout is certain to change, with more and more tech discreetly being introduced, but don’t expect the field of play to ever consist of anything more than players, an official and a ball.

DJI’s First Drone Arena in Tokyo to Open This Saturday

Consumer drone giant DJI will open its first Japanese drone arena in the city of Tokyo this Saturday, providing a space for both hardened professionals and curious newcomers to hone their flying skills.

The arena, which covers an area of 535 square metres, will not only include a large flying area complete with obstacles, but also offer a store where visitors can purchase the latest DJI drones and a technical support area where drone owners can get help with quadcopter issues.

The hope is that the arena will allow those who are curious about the technology but currently lack the space to try it out to get involved.

“As interest around our aerial technology continues to grow, the DJI Arena concept is a new way for us to engage not just hobbyists but also those considering this technology for their work or just for the thrill of flying,” said Moon Tae-Hyun, DJI’s director of brand management and operations.

“Having the opportunity to get behind the remote controller and trying out the technology first hand can enrich the customer experience. When people understand how it works or how easy it is to fly, they will discover what this technology can do for them and see a whole new world of possibilities.”

Images courtesy of DJI

In addition to its general sessions, which will allow members of the public to drop by and try their hand at flying drones, the arena will also offer private hire, including corporate events. For some companies, then, drone flying could become the new golf.

There will also be regular events, allowing pros to compete against one another, and drone training, in the form of DJI’s New Pilot Experience Program, for newcomers.

The arena has been launched in partnership with Japan Circuit, a developer of connected technologies, including drones.

“We are extremely excited to partner with DJI to launch the first DJI Arena in Japan,” said Tetsuhiro Sakai, CEO of Japan Circuit.

“Whether you are a skilled drone pilot or someone looking for their first drone, we welcome everyone to come and learn, experience it for themselves, and have fun. The new DJI Arena will not only serve as a gathering place for drone enthusiasts but also help us reach new customers and anyone interested in learning about this incredible technology.”

The arena is the second of its kind to be launched by DJI, with the first located in Yongin, South Korea, and detailed in the video above. .

Having opened in 2016, the area has attracted visitors from around the world, demonstrating serious demand for this type of entertainment space.

If the Tokyo launch goes well, it’s likely DJI will look at rolling out its arena concept to other cities, perhaps even bringing the model to the US and Europe.

For now, however, those who are interested can book time at the Tokyo arena here.

Commercial Human Spaceflight Advances Prompt Calls for Space Safety Institute

Commercial human spaceflight has been a long-held dream, but now it is finally poised to become a reality. Companies including Virgin Galactic and SpaceX are inching ever closer to taking private citizens into space, and there are serious plans for spaceports in several parts of the world, including Hawaii, the US, and Scotland, the UK.

But while the industry is advancing, the legal side of this fledgling commercial space industry remains underdeveloped, leading to calls for the development of an organisation to establish a framework for the safe operation of spaceports for human commercial spaceflights.

Writing in the journal New Space, Mclee Kerolle, from the United States International Institute of Space Law in Paris, France, has proposed the establishment of a Space Safety Institute recognised by the US congress and the United Nations.

This institute would “develop, enforce and adopt standards of excellence”, allowing the industry to develop while protecting it from liability and insurance risks.

“Currently, no international regulatory body exists to regulate the operation of spaceports,” he wrote. “This is unfortunate because while the advent of commercial human spaceflight industry is imminent, a majority of the focus from the legal community will be on regulating spaceflights and space access vehicles.

“However, the regulation of spaceports should be viewed in the same light as the rest of the commercial human spaceflight industry.”

The article focuses particularly on the establishment of a spaceport at the Kona International Airport in Keahole, Hawaii. At present, the spaceport’s development is subject to regulation by the Federal Aviation Authority, however there are aspects to spaceport development that do not apply to conventional aviation operations.

A spacesuit design for commercial flights developed by SpaceX. Featured image: SpaceX’s proposed spaceport for its conceptual interplanetary transport system. All images courtesy of SpaceX

The institute would be designed to first and foremost ensure safety within the industry, so it would be important, according to Kerolle, to ensure it was made up of individuals with expertise in the field, rather than bureaucrats.

“To make sure that this flexibility is inherent in a Space Safety Institute, the organization should be composed of individuals within the industry as opposed to government officials who are not familiar with the commercial human spaceflight industry,” he wrote.

“As a result, this should protect the commercial human spaceflight industry to some liability exposure, as well as promote growth in the industry to ensure the industry’s survival.”