Game, Tech, Match!

It doesn’t take an ardent fan to notice the transformation brought in by the use of technology in sports. The way we play, see and follow sports has been revolutionized. Technology has helped in shattering records that have previously stood for decades. The feats in the modern sport like Usain Bolt’s 9.58-sec sprint or Michael Phelps’ 8 gold medals have been seen as superhuman. The emergence of sports technology and its consequential effects begs the question: are athletes improving or are they better suited in a sporting environment designed to boost performance?

Sports technology was more of a luxury in India five years ago. However, in recent years, it has taken significant strides. More than sixty-three percent of sports tech companies were founded after 2015. It is believed that the global sports tech industry will be a mammoth $10 billion by 2024.

Modern Sports Tech: Video Analysis
Sports Tech: Video Analysis

The sports tech ecosystem can be broadly classified into two sectors: Athlete tracking and performance measurement, fan engagement, and media. Since India has a lot of passionate sports fans, fan engagement has become a very popular sector. Showing trends using virtual reality and augmented reality, and providing an immersive experience to fans has been the top priority of many broadcasting houses and allied companies. A sub-sector of fan engagement is the world of fantasy sports, where the number of operators in India has increased manifolds.

It is in Athlete Tracking and Performance Measurement that India is currently lacking behind its western counterparts. Few companies are working in the space of motion tracking, video analysis, and training platforms. The USA has adopted sports technology in a big way. They have integrated athlete monitoring mechanisms, enabling them to better plan an athlete’s meal, workout schedules, and evaluate performance. Technology helps keep track of young, potential stars, who are scouted on the performance at lower leagues.

While it is not always instantly apparent, the impact that technology has had on sports is vast. After a dismal performance by UK’s Olympic team at Atlanta Olympics in 1996, the English Institute of Sports revamped its methods and played an instrumental role in changing the nation’s fortunes in recent years. They implemented intensive monitoring of athletes from an early stage in their careers. They also included intensive psychological conditioning in their practice. The result could be seen in the Beijing Olympics where the UK bagged an impressive 70 medals and has kept the performance consistent in subsequent Olympics.

While cricket has been fairly ahead of all other sports in India, it is worth mentioning that the sports community is willing to take risks by starting leagues at the national, state, and district levels. Ever since IPL started in 2008, 14 other leagues have cropped up. At the elite level, there has been the use of technology to aid performance, however, the focus in India should be on ensuring that the technology available at the elite level of sports trickles down to the youth and grassroots. To sustain this growth momentum in sports, there is a need to increase the number of sporting facilities with world-class infrastructure, which will enable the government to achieve its vision of 50 Olympic gold medals soon.

In recent years, it has been acknowledged that the construction and refurbishment of sports infrastructure can stimulate economic development, whether it involves large facilities or small. India currently houses 90 sports facilities fulfilling international standards. The occupancy of these facilities remains low and as a result, they are dependent on regulatory bodies for operations and maintenance. India also has 11 Centre of Excellence or high-performance centres with state of the art technology. But do you think 11 centres are enough for a population of 135 crores? The lack of infrastructure to plug-in technology is a major worry.

The need of the hour is increasing investment in sports tech and infrastructure. We might be at crossroads with China right now. But there is much to learn from China, a country which also has a huge population just like India, but is one of the most successful Olympic teams. The key to their success is heavy investment in sports infrastructure and technology. The Chinese government not only sees this as a way to produce elite sportspersons, but also a huge contributor to the economy. Private players are encouraged, thus creating a potential breeding ground for innovation in sports technology. India must put more effort in, to incentivize private players to invest in sports technology and develop infrastructure. With the development and improvement of stadiums and other sports facilities in an area, it significantly benefits from a boost to tourism and consideration as a venue for mega sporting events, besides encourages participation in physical activities and sports.

‘The advance of technology is based on making it fit in so that you don’t really even notice it, so it’s part of everyday life.’

The BCCI started using the DRS system well after it had been used for 5 years. Whether its reluctance to change their ways or a lack of trust in the new technology, India has always been slow to adopt new tech. But the steady growth that has been seen in recent years gives a lot to be optimistic about.

Suhail Nachane

Suhail Nachane is an enthusiastic sports management professional. He's graduated from Symbiosis School of Sports Sciences. A huge football fanatic and a Red Devil at heart. He firmly believes that sports, if utilized properly, has the power to usher people together and bring about a meaningful change in society. You can find him on Twitter at: @Suhail_1907.

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