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The Invisible Game

23/10/2017 Source:

As modern tech enhances sports with advanced video capture and decision-making tools, sports startups are using it to improve grassroot sporting ecosystems.

In the early 1990s, when the TV umpire first made his appearance, technology made its first major foray into the cricket field. In the decades that followed, technology has become part and parcel of the game, with a range of tools from multiple cameras, bat and stump sensors, ball tracking devices and the use of the Decision Review System (DRS) changing the way cricket is being played in the world. Training has increasingly become technical, with video analysts giving inputs on each aspect of the game. Football has also followed suit, with major leagues such as the English Premier League adopting goal-line technology to make close calls easier to judge. Technology has become part and parcel of the modern professional sport. What does this mean for professional sport? Will it eliminate the element of human error? Will the use of technology mean that India could leapfrog into the top sporting countries in a generation?

From offering solutions to make umpiring and refereeing easier, to building social networks and connecting like-minded individuals, sports start-ups in India are using big data and tech solutions to get more people in India hooked to sports. Anshul Bagai, one of the founders of the Delhi-based, a company that offers software tools and services to schools and colleges in an attempt to get more kids hooked onto sports, explains, “Allsport is a sports-based social networking and marketing platform. It aims at bringing persons associated with sports together to interact and manage their products and services. Due to the lack of proper infrastructure, India lags behind other major nations in the sporting field. We hope to use tech tools to find solutions to some of these issues. For instance, we have developed a tool that lets students, parents and sports teachers communicate and share information about various sporting events and registration details online. We are also building an online database that will make it easier for coaches to connect with athletes. Many of the sports tournaments in India do not have an online presence and we hope that this platform will address some of these issues.”

Bagai adds, “The platform acts as a repository, where the database of students and their performance stats can be stored and viewed. This system can also be used by colleges and universities to track students’ performance and manage their tournaments better. We are also aiding Indian club sides in building online fan communities. For instance, EPL teams have multiple fan groups across India. You can walk into a store and pick up the latest jersey of your favourite team. Through this platform, we hope to create online communities of fans supporting Indian teams in the IPL and many other leagues. We feel that an online presence is very important in building a sporting culture.”

On whether technological advancements such as the use of Hotspot and Ultra Edge is good for the sport, Bagai has good things to say, “I think that technology should be used when it is required. It will help the match officials more and will make sure that the match is fair. Technology must be used to eliminate human errors. I think in the long run, it will be good for the sport.”

If creating a database of players and online communities is what Allsport is looking at, Bengaluru-based Chauka is solving a problem that multiple teams playing neighbourhood and school cricket face — getting a reliable scorer.

Chauka offers users automated scorecards, complete with leader boards, wagon wheels, net run rate graphs and so on. Mahesh Kumar, the marketing manager of Chauka, says, “We were all very interested in cricket and started Chauka because cricket is the top sport in India. Scoring was done manually in most local tournaments and it was difficult to get the statistical breakup, i.e. runs scored by each batsman, the net run rate, the scoring rate and the bowling figures. This should help in providing better training and will help players pinpoint problem areas.”

Adding his bit on the place occupied by technology in sports, Kumar adds, “I think that systems like DRS and goal-line technology are very helpful in reducing the extent of human error with regard to influencing the outcome of a game. Modern coaches use video, live feeds and analysis to help their teams.”

A love for playing sports and the need to create a platform that connects amateur athletes, venues, and service providers is what made Gauravjeet Singh and his group of friends create the Playo app.

He explains, “Playing a sport, finding a group of like-minded people and fixing a time is something that requires a lot of planning. Playo helps users to reserve playing spots at nearby venues, find coaches, and connect with potential competitors online. We realised that venues and trainers did exist, but there was no platform that brought everything together. Playo also helps integrate venues into the app and makes the booking process for venues easier.”

Singh points out, “I think that it is important to give sports high priority. It must be done at home. If somebody in your family plays a sport regularly, there is a good chance your kids take it up. We need to nurture good talent. I think the biggest contribution of technology will be in creating a proper sporting culture.”

Tools of the trade:

Hawk-Eye: Hawk-Eye is a new-age technology used in multiple sports such as Cricket, Tennis, Badminton and Rugby Union to visually track the trajectory of the ball and display a record of its most likely path. It was developed in 2001 in the United Kingdom by Paul Hawkins. It works via six high-performance cameras, which track the ball from different angles. The video from the six cameras are then triangulated and combined to create a three-dimensional representation of the ball's trajectory. Hawk-Eye has been used for the challenge system since 2006 in tennis and Umpire Decision Review System in cricket since 2009. It was rolled out for the 2013-14 Premier League season as a means of goal-line technology. The system was first introduced in Test cricket, for reviewing close calls made by the on-field umpires.

Hot Spot: BBG Sports, a Melbourne-based firm, developed Hot Spot in association with Sky Sports. Hot Spot is an infrared imaging system used to determine whether the ball has struck the batsman, bat or pad. Hot Spot requires two infra-red cameras on opposite sides of the ground that are continuously recording an image. Any suspected snick or bat/pad event can be verified by examining the infrared image, which usually shows a bright spot where contact friction has elevated the local temperature.

Snicko: Snicko is a tool created by English computer scientist Allan Plaskett.

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