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Hi-tech innovations bring Fifa 2018 World Cup action in Russia closer to fans

Technology is used to enhance viewer enjoyment of the beautiful game

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 June, 2018, 10:19am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 June, 2018, 10:39am

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re aware that life as we know it is on pause for the 64 soccer matches of the 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia. The innovations introduced this year surpass any previous World Cup tournament, and for those who can’t be there in person, we’ve compiled a list of ways to watch that will enhance viewer enjoyment of the beautiful game.

The technology headlining the new tech is the first official match ball fitted with an NFC chip. The chip in Adidas Telstar 18 – a re-imagining of the first Adidas Fifa World Cup match ball, the Telstar, which was used at the 1970 tournament in Mexico – enables fans to interact with the ball using a smartphone. On interaction, each ball generates a unique identifier, unlocking exclusive content and information about the World Cup, special competitions and challenges which the company says will be updated. “Creators” from around the world can film themselves meeting these challenges and upload the footage. The Telstar 18 is available for sale at Adidas retail stores and online.

All competition stadiums will be equipped with goal-line technology that processes information from 14 high-speed cameras and sends a signal within one second to the referee’s watch indicating when the entire ball has crossed the goal line.

Another major hidden technology Fifa is making available at each match consists of a number of tools and communication equipment for both teams. Technical and medical staff of the participating teams will have dedicated workstations on the media tribune and a dedicated line to communicate with the coaching and medical staff on the bench. Positional data from two optical tracking cameras located on the main tribune that track the players and ball will be available to the analysts in real time alongside live footage from selected tactical cameras. The insights from the technical information and the provided communication link allow for constant real-time interaction that can feed into their decisions during the match.

2. The experience

Watching the game at home takes on a new dimension with Hisense’s new World Cup Special AI (artificially intelligent) TV. Launched in time for kick-off, this 4K ULED TV has facial recognition technology which can automatically recognise all 1,000 players individually. Viewers simply click a button to see information such as player name, and highlights of their performance, right there on the screen. As explained by Hisense chairman Zhou Houjian at CES Asia in Shanghai early in June, this smarter TV can also recognise any scene, and respond by switching to the best way of watching it – in the case of the World Cup games, by going into sports mode.

Other TVs rated highly for World Cup-watching include LG’s OLED C8, a best-in-class 4K set with a sharper, more detailed image and easy-to-use app-based interface. If sound matters, Panasonic’s ultra-thin 4K OLED 4K FZ952, featuring HDR visuals bolstered by the brand’s latest HCX video processor, has a built-in soundbar tuned by Technics, the premium hi-fi brand.

3. The conversation

Australian hearts bled when the Socceroos became the tournament’s first ‘victim’ of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), whose decision saw their nation lose to France in the opening match. So, love it or hate it, the controversial technology is an ideal conversation-starter.

For the first time in Fifa World Cup history, a VAR team of four (a video referee and three assistants) is supporting the on-field officials during all 64 matches in Russia. Operating from a video operation room in Moscow, the VAR team has access to 33 broadcast cameras – including eight super slow-motion and four ultra slow-motion cameras – as well as exclusive access to two offside cameras. From these vantage points the VAR team constantly checks for ‘clear and obvious errors’, and can overturn the referee’s decision even if play has resumed.

VAR technology has been used previously in various sporting leagues and competitions around the world, but many fans assert that it has no business in soccer, where passion and spontaneity form the very essence of the game. Fifa argues that VAR technology helps increase integrity and fairness in the game. So whichever side you are on, verbal jousting around the technology will be an integral part of your match enjoyment.

4. The food

Nothing calls for finger food more than a World Cup group-fest. Share platters and napkins are all it takes for sustenance to be sorted.

For something a little bit fancy, the people at Champneys Health Spa in Britain have done the legwork for you by compiling a list of healthy snacks from around the world to enjoy while watching the game – recipes included. From Taameyya (an Egyptian falafel) to Moroccan Amlou (a delicacy made from ground roasted almonds mixed with honey and argan oil); from Tremoços (also known as pickled lupine beans) from Portugal to Quinoa from Peru; or the humble smashed avo on toast perfected in Australia, Champneys has it all on its website.

If you prefer the food to come to you, several Hong Kong restaurants have stepped up to the plate with World Cup set menus. Korean restaurant Sodam Chicken has a feast for four including boneless fried chicken, French fries, a Caesar salad, tropical special pizza and drinks, while Flamingo Bloom offers a choice of toastie snacks – grilled cheese and corned beef, smashed tomatoes or avocados – to team with your favourite hot or cold drink. Pizza Monster has a hearty menu for three soccer fans (large Hawaiian pizza, deep-fried chicken and drinks), while ICONIC’s set feeds six with hot dogs, fries, onion rings, salad and more. All are available for delivery by UberEATS.

5. The X-factor

So on July 15, it will be all over, and everyone can get back to their lives – until 2022, at least. And in the preceding six weeks, this is how the world will have changed:

• Collectively, players in the tournament will have covered an estimated 329,728 miles – the equivalent to running around the earth about 13 times.

• We’ll have had a first look at 5G – the networks are being trialled in Russia during the tournament, ahead of 5G’s roll-out in 2019.

• The winning team gets to take home the world’s most coveted trophy. But the prized Cup isn’t a cup at all – more like a blob. And, they don’t get to keep it. Apparently, when the celebrations are over, the original trophy (made of 18ct gold) is returned to its permanent home in the Fifa World Football Museum in Zurich, while the winners end up with a cheaper replica.