Is it vaaar? Is it V.A.R.? Who knows, but it’s such an omnipresence at this year’s tournament that even Love Island have parodied it. The Video Assistant Referee has had the single biggest technological impact on this World Cup. 335 on-pitch incidents have been checked by VAR officials so far, changing the course of games by allowing the video review of goals, penalties and red card decisions, and intervening in cases of mistaken identity. It’s also super cute that they wear their full referee kit in the viewing studio. Knee socks and all.
Ok, not on the pitch, but on the telly at least. Eden Hazard gave an interview ‘in the studio’, from the Belgium dressing room after their victory over Brazil to reach the semi-finals. That’s super futuristic right there. I certainly don’t remember that four years ago. And not just because Belgium got knocked out in the quarters.
Ever wondered how they know that England covered the most ground of any team in the last 16? A combination of electronic performance and tracking systems are used to determine that our lads covered a lung-busting 143km between them over 120 minutes against Colombia, including an optical-based tracking system (using TV cameras), local positioning (using an LPS unit on the players’ backs and receivers around the pitch), and GPS/GPSS (GPS unit in that same box, and satellites). Another fun fact uncovered by collecting all this data, is that according to Opta, Olivier Giroud has now played over seven hours of World Cup football without a shot on target. Amusing.
Surprisingly this one isn’t actually to track the ball around the pitch or measure shot power. Adidas have put an NFC chip in their ‘Telstar’ World Cup football purely as a consumer perk. Fans who buy the official ball can use a smartphone app to access particular content and competitions through the ball’s chip. As TechRadar put it, ‘this isn’t about tracking the ball but interacting with it’, which is a sentence I’m not sure would have made sense four years ago…
Waiting in a queue for the bus yesterday, both me and the woman in front of me were streaming the France-Belgium semi-final in HD on our smartphones. Headphones on of course. This is the most streamed World Cup in history. 3.8 million people watched the England-Sweden quarter final live through iPlayer, breaking the record as the most watched live BBC TV programme ever. Technology’s not just changing the game, but how we follow it.
If streaming’s not enough, then BBC are presenting the tournament in Ultra HD and VR. The VR stream is free and available on Gear VR, Oculus Go and PlayStation VR headsets, as well as Android and iOS devices, where you can watch the whole match from inside a stadium hospitality box (drinks not included).
For all the cool technology in the world and the World Cup though, it’s reassuring that a 155 year old game can get a nation singing a 22 year old song. For after all, it’s coming home.