• Vinod Bijlani

How Digital Transformation Can Safely Rekindle the Spirit of Sport

COVID-19 has changed the rules of the game, and not just for players. Many of us dream of returning to the excitement of cheering on our favourite teams in the stadiums and the adrenaline rush from watching a match up-close.


For months, there has been intense debate on whether Japan should proceed with the Tokyo Olympics, already postponed from 2020. Recent news around the cancellation of this year's Singapore Grand Prix and the question mark over the year-end 31st SEA Games in Hanoi, Vietnam due to the pandemic have added to growing scrutiny around international sporting events. Sporting success in the COVID-era has come to be defined by zero-transmission events coupled with fans safely experiencing the high of a live event. This can be achieved by effectively running events inside of bio-secure sports bubbles.

We’re already seeing technology being used to get live sports back on track with smart sport technology using the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Let’s look at how a sustainable game format can be created using the bio-bubble.


Outdoor Sports Inside Bubbles


When the pandemic raged across the United States around March 2020, the historic thoroughbred horseracing venue Santa Anita Park in Southern California imposed safety restrictions quickly, arranging for jockeys to live in isolated bubbles in campers along the racetracks.


The scrambled plan created a self-sustained, safe ecosystem, and set the record for the world’s first effective sports bubble amidst COVID-19, forming a template for the National Basketball Association (NBA), the London Marathon, Formula One, and other international sporting events in the months that ensued.


Bio-secure bubbles may be proving to be the best solution to keep sports alive through an unrelenting pandemic, with the US Open, the Australian Open, and other global tournaments standing as promising success stories.



Consider the world’s biggest annual Cricket event, the Indian Premier League (IPL). The 2020 chapter held across 53 days, three venues in the UAE, and 60 matches, had eight bubbles, one for each team in the series, sequestered into different hotels, with regular testing and imposed safe distancing. For events of such scale, bubbles can get expensive and logistically challenging. However, with the digitization of both sport and safety, intelligent planning, and smart technology for maintaining zero transmission risks at mega events make for an easier swing.


A bio-bubble allows for regular close monitoring of the health of athletes and support staff. While all members belonging to a bubble are tested for COVID-19 ahead of entry, once inside, they are given IoT-enabled wearables that track their every move in real time.

While members are tested for infection daily, the Bluetooth, RFID, UWB, and chip-enabled GPS devices aid in contact tracing, should there be an outbreak. AI-based apps and solutions consolidate data collected and instantly identify breach of safety protocols, making for quicker proactive decisions.


For instance, the coronavirus task force at the National Football League (NFL) mandated compact UWB-based proximity recording wearable devices league-wide as part of its safety protocols. The data thus collected can be uploaded to an AI-based infection detection and control system that manages all health and COVID safety information.


A Marathon, not a Sprint


For a phased reopening, it is critical that stadiums implement a digital shift in planning and execution to be able to ensure inter-spectator distancing and limited entry capacity, as well as mandate face masks. AI algorithms used for ticketing solutions can guarantee sale of seats auto-enabled for distancing at the time of e-booking, safeguarding spaces between groups. The same technology can be used to relay real-time information from organisers to ticket holders using AI. Bluetooth, GPS, and WiFi-enabled solutions can monitor fan movement in real time, ensuring distancing and enabling contact tracing. In Singapore, people are already very familiar with this technology in the form of TraceTogether.

Sports operates in spurts of short activities, making it one of the few industries that can afford to disconnect physically from the world, inside of a bubble. Sporting bubbles can help rev up the economy by bringing back some normalcy in the world of games. However, the costs of daily tests, tech maintenance, and losses from tickets are palpable. If stadiums have no choice but to enforce limited capacity for the foreseeable future, the task of bridging the gap between spectators and sports lies with technology. By adopting bubbles and leveraging technology, we might see the accelerated return to normalcy in the sporting world. That is something we can all cheer on.


The complete version of this article has been published at: https://www.businesstimes.com.sg/opinion/the-games-must-go-on-how-digital-transformation-can-safely-rekindle-the-spirit-of-sport


Author: Bijlani Vinod Anand is a thought leader in Data Science, Artificial Intelligence and Internet-of-Things. He has contributed to the design and implementation of Smart City projects, and established intelligent public transportation and traffic ecosystems in India, Singapore, and the US. Vinod is a distinguished inventor with multiple patents in advanced technologies. He envisions a radically safer, healthier and more sustainable planet with the advent of Industry 4.0. For more details on Vinod’s professional background, please refer to - www.vinodbijlani.me

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