The basic rules to football and many other sports have remained relatively consistent for the best part of a century. Of course, minor rule tweaks happen on a regular basis, often more around the financial and management elements of the sport.
For example, the offside rule was changed slightly in 1907, penalty shootouts were introduced in 1970, and hacking was still allowed until 1863. In fact, referees only became part of football in 1871, before that team captains shared the role.
Recently, several major changes have been introduced that has affected the dynamic of the game. Each one has been the result of technology. Outside of the rules themselves, technology has had other lasting effects on football, changing the way it’s consumed by fans and even the way that players train. Here are some of the biggest technological influences in football today.
Video assistant referee (VAR) is one of the most controversial technologies introduced into football in recent years. The rationale behind its introduction is to allow officials to be more confident of the decisions they make by reviewing incidents from additional angles.
Fans have complained it can break up the flow of the game while they wait with bated breath to find out whether a goal has been allowed or not.
Serie A was one of the first leagues to introduce VAR, starting in the 2017/18 season. However, it has continued to be controversial. For example, during the beginning of the 2018/19 season referees in the league began to use the technology less, following guidance from the International Football Association Board.
Similarly to VAR, goal-line technology helps to prevent mistakes when referees decide whether a goal is valid or not. It was first introduced to Serie A for the 2015/16 season, a couple of years after the Premier League in England.
While it’s still used, VAR now has a bigger effect on the game.
It’s not just on the pitch where technology is having an effect. Smartphones are owned by around 50% of the Italian population, with the highest adoption rates being among adults below 55, the demographic that’s most engaged with football.
This has created a huge market for sports betting since it’s now easier and more convenient for fans to place wagers on games from their smartphones. Mobile betting sites have also made it possible for fans outside of Italy to effortlessly access the Serie A market, something that was much more difficult before.
It’s not just betting though, following scores live is much easier when you’re not at the stadium or in front of a TV. On non-game days, accessing football news and even following the daily life of footballers is easier though social media.
Telemetry systems have been used in motorsports for decades, allowing teams to monitor the performance of cars and drivers to find where improvements can be made. Many American sports, including the NBA have begun using systems in recent years that can be used in a similar way, tracking player movements and positions to fine-tune strategies.
Similar techniques are being applied to football, although they were allowed until fairly recently. Now, things are changing as players are permitted to wear tracking equipment during games.
Companies like Layer have developed tools specifically for footballers. Its Playr system includes a vest that is worn by each player. This vest contains a “smart pod” tracks 1,250 different data points per second, including movements from GPS and vital statistics like the player’s use of oxygen.
This data is translated into reports that can be accessed from an app, showing a heat map of where that player spends most of their time on the pitch. The company claims that it has, on average, helped players to become 3.5% faster and increase their sprint distance by over 26 percent after three months of use.
While it may not be to the liking of all fans, technology is changing football a lot. It allows better decisions to be made by referees, players, coaching staff and even fans. Some argue that it degrades the spectacle, although these complaints usually subside when VAR decisions go in their favour.