Smart ball to transform U20s Championship refereeing in five areas
World Rugby is set to conduct the world’s first trial of smart ball technology in a live match officiating capacity at the World Rugby U20s Championship in South Africa in June. The trial is being undertaken in collaboration with Sportable and Gilbert.
This move comes as the sport of rugby celebrates 200 years since its inception through innovation, and World Rugby is now exploring how the emergence of new technology and artificial intelligence can help shape the future of the sport and take fan experience to the next level by aiding the flow of the game.
Smart ball technology is aimed at helping match officials make accurate decisions quickly and tackling common but challenging aspects of the law. These areas include determining whether a ball has been passed forward, crossed the try line, been touched in flight, or where touch has been found, as well as whether a lineout throw was straight.
The smart ball technology works by tracking the ball in 3D and real-time, with beacons positioned around the pitch to determine the ball’s exact position up to 20 times per second.
A direct feed will be made available to the television match official, who will be able to use the information to provide feedback to the referee in the following five areas:
- Throw forward: Assist with decision-making on forward passes by measuring the relative velocity of the ball relative to the player as it leaves their hands, so indicating whether the ball has been ‘thrown forward’ in the act of passing;
- Made touch location: With an accurate location for where the ball makes touch, the Gilbert smart ball ensures the lineout is taken from the position the ball exited the pitch;
- Touched in flight: Informing decision-making around whether a ball was touched in flight (e.g. partial charge down) by recognising changes in spin and trajectory caused by a touch of the ball;
- Ball over try line: Live location of the ball will determine whether the ball has reached the try line;
- Lineout throws: Provide instantaneous feedback indicating whether a lineout throw is not straight by measuring the angle of the throw from release to being touched by a player.
The smart ball technology has already delivered rich insights and data to aid broadcast and digital experiences. Recent testing has also demonstrated its potential to assist with officiating decision-making, tackling game-defining decisions, and reducing the focus on referees and the wider match official team.
World Rugby director Phil Davies said: “A fast game is a good game and it is right that we explore technology that has the potential to help aid the flow of the game, reduce stoppage time and speed up match official decision-making.
“Rugby refereeing is perhaps the most difficult officiating job in sport. There are multiple decisions or non-decisions that are made at any given moment and the advancement of broadcast and social media means that such decisions are poured over long after the event.
“The evolution of smart ball technology opens the door to assist match officials in reaching accurate decisions more quickly, removing subjectivity and reducing the chance of error. While this is a trial and the technology is new, we are excited about its potential and look forward to seeing it in action at the World Rugby U20 Championship.”
Dugald Macdonald, CEO and Co-founder of Sportable, added: “We are excited by the opportunity to further showcase the full capabilities of the Gilbert Smart Ball in the upcoming World Rugby U20 Championship.
“After the successful implementation of smart ball technology to enhance the fan experience through broadcast graphics and digital content, we are looking forward to this next phase and the introduction of our officiating solution that the smart ball provides.
“We are fully supportive of the Shape of the Game work that World Rugby are conducting and delighted to be playing a part in moving the game forward.
“The smart ball is already successfully delivering rich insights and data to aid broadcast and digital experiences, but recent testing has also demonstrated its potential to assist with officiating decision-making, tackling game-defining decisions, and reducing the focus on referees and the wider match official team.”
With the future stars of the men’s test arena showcasing their ability, the World Rugby U20 Championship will also be the innovation hub for future technology innovation. Confirmation of the trial follows the announcement that the TMO bunker will operate at the Championship, the first time that it will be used in an international competition.
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