After 52 matches, 142 goals, penalty shootouts, joy and heartache, the Euro2020 tournament finished yesterday with more heartache for English fans. With legitimate hopes that football was finally coming home, the trophy returned to Rome as Italy won a penalty kick shootout in a dramatic final at Wembley Stadium. While there have been fewer fans attending due to Covid limitations, the technology required to organize and present the world’s second most important soccer tournament has been abundant. Here are some of the technologies and innovations that have piqued my curiosity.
1. Match Ball
Soccer balls have come a long way from stitched pigs bladders. As with the World Cup, one of the guarantees is that Adidas, as it has done for every Euro tournament since 1968, will release a new match ball. The Euro2020 version is called “Uniforia.” It’s a high-profile project for the company that sees the R&D and design departments try to improve on the aerodynamics and physical properties of the balls, the materials and exterior coating as well as the all-important graphics. A well-funded IP program has helped Adidas secure patent protection for its inventions like this one.
2. Match Ball Car
In a departure from previous tournaments where the referee simply carried the ball onto the field, organizers this year decided to use a remote controlled car to deliver the ball to the center of the pitch. Sure it’s gimmicky but this tiny Volkswagen ID.4 went viral on the opening day with plenty of social media memes. Other sponsors jumped on as the pint-sized electric vehicle quickly trended globally. The crowd roar when the car delivered the match ball yesterday showed that its popularity hasn’t lessened with repeated viewings. Expect to see other sports borrow this pre-match spectacle in coming years as it’s an obvious revenue channel or package upsell for car and truck sponsors.
Franx Beckenbauer captained West Germany en route to a 1974 World Cup victory wearing Adidas cleats made of leather. These are totally anachronistic now, long replaced by superlight footwear that is more slipper than sports gear. With soccer by far the world’s most popular sport, footwear is a multi-billion market dominated by what the R&D departments at Nike and Adidas can dream up. If you haven’t visited a sporting goods store lately and picked up a shoe like a
Nike Mercurial Vapor 14 Elite FG or an Adidas Predator Freak.1, you’ll be amazed at how light and minimalist they are. There’s a whole lot of component technology in those garish colorways.
4. Vanishing Foam
This is one of the most elegantly simple inventions in sports. It’s the can of white foam that referees use to designate the distance from which defenders must stand away from free kick takers. Thanks to the curiosity of a Brazilian inventor Heine Allemagne, some chemistry and the help of a local cosmetics company near his home, he invented Spuni in 2000. It’s a combination of water, butane gas, vegetable oil, and surfactant that forms a white that “evaporates” after about a minute. Proving that the road can be long for entrepreneurs, it wasn’t until the 2014 World Cup when it became a global brand. With patent protection now expired, it’s unclear which foam brand referees are using at Euro2020 to police defender encroachment.
5. Video Assistant Referee
The VAR system provides referees with an off-field resource who can see multiple camera angles and pass on information and interpretations of game events to the referee. After its introduction at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the technology/human review process has been prominently showcased at Euro2020. If you’re an English fan, it brought both heartache and celebration in the same semi-final match, rejecting a penalty box foul on England’s Harry Kane, while later confirming the Raheem Stirling trip that resulted in Kane’s winning goal. Over the 51 games to date, it’s been a seamless combination of networking, video and communication technology that connect the Video Assistant Referees watching matches at UEFA headquarters in Switzerland directly with the officiating team.
Outside of the thrills of victory and the agonies of defeat, the most enduring image from this tournament may well be the picture of the Danish team huddled around their prone and unconscious leader Christian Eriksen as medical staff resuscitated him using CPR and a portable defibrillator. His collapse in Denmark’s opening match on June 12 against Finland emphasized anew that CPR training and ready access to a defibrillator to give a high-energy electric shock to the heart saves lives. Shout out to all the people who contributed to its invention and development. (Here’s a summary of that iterative road)
Overall, it was a great tournament for soccer fans everywhere. Plenty of thrilling moments, tears from fans of losing teams and plenty of technology and innovations on display. Next month in Tokyo, the Summer Olympics will be a similar showcase, albeit one without any fans at all. And those English fans? Qualifying has already begun for Qatar 2022. “Fifty-five years of hurt” hasn’t stopped them dreaming so there’s always hope.