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Technology at the service of sport

Technology is rapidly entering into every aspect of our lives, helping us to do more and better, if not even doing things for ourselves. The reason is simple: human beings are complex organisms and by nature dedicated to performing many different tasks and, however much they may specialize and focus on individual tasks or activities, they will never be as effective as a machine designed to best perform a single task. That's why automation and robotics, together with Artificial Intelligence, are increasingly supporting people, giving humans capabilities that were unimaginable until now.
In sport, all of this is allowing us to keep up with athletes, gestures, actions and game patterns much faster. It is impossible to monitor by the human eye and very difficult to process for our brain, which often compensates for the lack or inaccuracy of information passed by the senses with interpretations that can mislead.
Door lines are monitored by the Goal Technology Line technology
This has led many sports federations to provide judges and referees with technological aids, without which their ability to judge objectively and impartially would be lost. Devices that in some cases eliminate the possibility of error and in many others substantially reduce it, allowing you to better assess what the eye could not or could not grasp. Here are some examples.

Goal Line Technology in football

The so-called ghost goal is one of the most delicate cases for referees and linesmen in football. It happens when the ball does not enter the goal in a decisive and clean way, because a shot on goal or a deviation determines a particular trajectory, with the ball dancing on the line or making a curve between the poles, then returning to enter the goal - or not? Did the ball cross the line, even if only for a moment, or did it just stay on the line?
For years, before modern technology, only the referee was the repository of this truth, often presumed and impossible to prove. Today the "goalkeeper technology" allows to drastically reduce the possibility of error, intervening to help the referee staff in case of uncertainty.
Football fields are increasingly monitored by technology
Some different systems have been designed and tested with this technology, of which only a couple (GoalRef and Hawk-Eye) have been then approved by IFAB and FIFA and actually applied and tested further over the years, starting in 2012. In Serie A the technology used from 2015-2016 is the Hawk-Eye system (hawk's eye).

The Hawk-Eye system sees where the ball goes (on a static basis)

Developed in England in 2001, this system is based on the reproduction of the trajectory of the ball, resulting in the determination of the path that it has followed, carried out on a statistical basis. The system is based on the triangulation of images taken by seven cameras placed in certain corners of the playing field, usually on the roof of the stadium, near the doors.
A volleyball game in Italy is under the watchful eye of the video challenge technology
The whole system is based on predefined models of the playing field and the movements of the ball, which is followed during its trajectory (by analyzing the individual pixels of the video footage) so as to be able to determine its actual position at a given time or point. Approved in 2012 by FIFA, in football the Hawk-Eye system is used to determine whether the ball has actually and completely crossed the goal line, validating a goal that to the naked eye was impossible to see (ghost goal).

These systems are not free from errors but are changing the sport, bringing it closer to an era in which the contribution of Artificial Intelligence will further reduce the margins of error

The Hawk-Eye Innovations Ltd., which uses this and other control devices on many sports, ensures a difference in their accuracy of just a few millimeters.
The hawk's eye is also used in tennis, cricket and other sports where it is necessary to establish trajectories or line overruns by the balls of the game and where the greatest difficulty comes from their spherical shape, when a ball touches the ground, in fact, the total size of the same always tends to hide from view the surface actually in contact with the ground, generating an incorrect perception of its actual position.

VAR in football

Close-up shot of bearded soccer referee blowing whistle after noticed infringement of game rules, blurred background
Unlike the two previous technologies, VARs (Video Assistant Referee) are people, not machines. They are assistants who help the referee by watching the video of the action to be judged in instant replay mode. These are called into question on four possible occasions:

  • 1. Doubts assignment of a penalty;
  • 2. Validation of a goal;
  • 3. Attribution of direct red cards;
  • 4. Exchange of identity between players during admonition or expulsion.

In this case, It is not technology that gives the indication that can confirm or deny the decision of the referee, but it supports the VAR and its assistant video assistant referee (AVAR) for their interpretation. They are in radio communication with the referee, watch the video images and explain to the match director what happened.

A traditional soccer ball on the line: technology would recognize it inside the field
The latter may in turn ask to review the video at the edge of the field, but in any case it is up to him to make the final decision. The system came into force in Italy in the Serie A 2017-18 championship after being tested in many international contexts.

The Video Challenge

Used since the 2014 men's volleyball world championship, the Video Challenge allows the technicians of the teams on the field to ask the referee to use the cameras to assess the episodes of doubtful play.
A gooalkeeper's parade on a football field
Each technician has two calls per set, which can be stored in case of correct call (challenge won and change of point with respect to the arbitration decision) and consumed in case of wrong call. The speed at which the balls travel and the players move in this sport often generates doubts about possible wall touches on the attacks of the opponents, on the invasions, on the touch to the ground during the rescues, on the inside or outside at the time of the touch to the ground of the ball. In 2016 the Video Challenge also arrived at the Olympics and is now used in the most important international events of this discipline.

New technologies in sport and mistakes

These and other systems are not 100% free from errors and interpretations, but they are certainly changing the sport and bringing it closer to an era in which the contribution of Artificial Intelligence will further reduce the margins of error and conditioning that referees and judges inevitably determine.
Technology also plays an essential role in MotoGP
The objective is not to replace human beings in the direction of the race and in judgment, but to make possible errors as marginal as possible, if not even irrelevant. As much as this can actually be implemented, however, sports will always remain subject to the imponderable contribution of chance, which can determine infinite variables and alter the course of competitions that appear to be obvious.

Video Challenge technology allows team technicians on the pitch to ask the referee to use the cameras to evaluate dubious game episodes

For example, in motor sports of excellence, the level of accuracy of the weather forecast on the track is very high. Knowing that in 10 minutes it will rain on a single part of the track and that the rain will only last for a few minutes is not enough to make an error-proof decision about changing tyres. This operation could favour some drivers and cars and represent a defeat for others, less equipped in the wet or equipped with a vehicle more difficult to control or less balanced in these conditions.

As much as the technology can meet us, therefore, as in the case of the VARs the last decision will always be of a human, as well as their performance, their motivation and their fame of victory.

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