Unlike other professional sports organizations such as the NBA, NFL, or MLB, FIFA, the governing body of association football — or soccer — has traditionally been adverse to adopting technology on the field. "We shall rely on human beings," former FIFA President Sepp Blatter said in 2002. "Players make mistakes, coaches make mistakes and yes, sometimes referees make mistakes. But football is passion, football is emotion. Football has a human touch."
However, over the past few years, the resistance to innovation appears to be eroding thanks to the International Football Association Board, established to "serve the world of football as the independent guardian of the laws of the game.” As the FIFA 2018 World Cup sets to begin in Russia on June 14, here are a few cool “assists” that will make life a little easier for the referees and players of the world’s most popular sport.
Video Assistant Referee (VAR)
Making its debut at the 2018 World Cup, video assistant referee (VAR) technology is designed to help referees make better decisions. As the name indicates, referees, with access to dozens of camera angles, will observe the games on multiple screens and instantly alert on-pitch referees to any mistakes. The head referee can decide whether to change the erroneous call based on the feedback, or request video footage of the play to make a more educated decision. To minimize disruption of the game, the offsite judges are only mandated to intervene when officials have made a “clear and obvious error” in one of four key areas: goals, penalties, straight red cards and mistaken identity.
Successfully introduced at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, goal-line technology is designed to help referees keep an eye on the ball in real time. Fourteen video cameras, seven at each goal post, and magnetic field sensors keep track of the ball as it approaches the goal line. Each time the ball crosses over, the referees are instantly alerted with the word “GOAL” flashing in bright letters on their smartwatches.
Telstar 18 Official Match Ball
Though multi-colored soccer balls are the norm today, such was not the case when Adidas launched the Telstar (television star) Elast, the official soccer ball of the 1970 FIFA World Cup. Instead of the normal solid dark color, the “radical” design comprised 12 black pentagonal panels and 20 white ones. The contrasting colors made it easier for fans watching the first-ever live broadcast of the World Cup, to see the ball clearly on their black and white television sets. Not surprisingly, the “radical” ball was extremely popular with both professionals and amateurs. For 2018, Adidas has recreated a technologically-advanced model of what the company’s category director for global football hardware Roland Rommler calls, “The Godfather of all balls."
At first sight, the Telstar 18, the product of four years of design and testing, looks similar to the 1970 model. However, look closer and you will notice that instead of the 32 hand-stitched panels featured in the original ball, the new version has just six machine-stitched panels with a latex bladder (the chamber that's filled with air to keep the ball inflated) that allows for a stable performance. The ball’s black and white design also has a modern pixelated look, similar to models used in other prestigious soccer tournaments. According to the company, the Telstar 18 performs well at all altitudes and temperatures.
However, what really sets Telstar 18 apart from its predecessor is the NFC (Near Field Communication) chip fitted in each ball that allows smartphones in close range to interact with the ball. Though it currently only allows users to give it a name or access content and information unique to the ball, future versions will be capable of measuring the ball’s speed or height and even collecting data to help train players. One neat feature that did not make into the final version was the installation of 12 micro cameras that would have enabled viewers to observe the ball from different angles. Adidas says while it would have been a unique way to watch the game, the ball’s speed made spectators dizzy.
While the company claims that the Telstar 18 has "taken football innovation and design to a new level and offers both consumers and players a completely new experience,” they are not resting on their laurels. The Adidas design team is already busy at work, trying to create an even more impressive official ball for the 2022 Qatar World Cup!
Resources: rte.ie, latimes.com, FIFA.com