Sports Technology Protecting Athletes and Providing Fairer Refereeing

Report Series

From professional sports to amateur sports

Photo: photoAC

The sports technology method's application scope is not limited to top athletes, such as those in professional sports. It can also be applied to college athlete education. Ordinary college athletes are usually involved in sports as club activities, and most of them stop playing once they graduate from college. Couldn’t we use the sports technology method to cultivate a basic knowledge of data science in these students? When one is learning statistics, applying it to one’s body would make learning easier.

The possibility also exists that the sports technology method can be adopted in sports club activities in ordinary high schools. For example, data collected on an athlete who runs a 50-m dash more or less indicates that athlete’s top speed. However, in rugby matches, players rarely run at top speeds. This is because the instant a player holds the ball, he becomes concerned about his opponents' movements and starts thinking about his next move. By wearing a GPS during a game, players will then be able to view their own movements afterward. The players can then come together and analyze what they can do to achieve top speed. This leads to thinking about what they should do to increase the number of accelerations.

One Tap Sports manages and analyzes data on a cloud basis. Data collected from top athletes could be useful to teachers in charge of club activities. In some junior and senior high schools, a single teacher may be in charge of three or four clubs' activities. Although they are teachers, they are often sports amateurs, and many of them don’t have the knowledge to protect students from injury. In such cases, utilizing data could help prevent students from getting injured.

As usual, other nations are considered to be ahead of Japan in the use of sports technology. In particular, the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, and Spain appear to be far ahead. To collect data, many types of sensors are required, including biosensors for measuring the athlete’s pulse rate, body temperature, heart rate, etc.; sensors to be installed in sports equipment such as shoes and rackets; image sensors for capturing images from outside; and motion sensors for detecting the movements of the athlete’s arms and legs. Other countries have companies that manufacture these types of sensors.

Companies in countries such as Australia, the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Ireland are well established in terms of athlete management systems (AMS), which accumulate and manage collected data. Fair Play AMS Pty Ltd of Australia has been in business for 24 years, while FITSTATS Technologies of Canada has a 17-year history.

Advanced examples outside Japan

One example outside Japan of a method of applying sports technology to athletes analyzes data using AI (Reference 1).

IBM is using Watson, its own AI machine, to analyze sports (Reference 2). To enhance the performance of female athletes in pursuit of bicycle racing, IBM jStart, a team specializing in sports analysis, uses IoT devices to collect data and Watson to analyze it. Power meters are installed in bicycles, heart rate monitors, and wearable blood oxygen level sensors attached to the athletes. The data is then transmitted to the Watson IoT platform via mobile devices such as smartphones inside pockets on the athletes’ jerseys. This data reaches the coach’s iPad in several seconds and can indicate conditions such as oxygen deficiency. Of course, lap time and environmental data such as temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, wind velocity, and wind direction are collected using the power meter. A prediction model is also provided, which can predict deterioration in the athlete’s condition.

In the U.K., a project aimed at the London 2012 Olympic Games was placed in motion even before the event. With the ambitious goal of winning the most gold medals possible, the project set out to scientifically analyze Olympic sports and how to build ideal bodies. Imperial College London was also working with teams developing and analyzing biosensors. They were trying to discover the optimal warm-up method and a quick recovery method by analyzing changes in the volumes of and biomarkers in bodily fluids (such as sweat, blood, and saliva), as well as physical abilities and degree of recovery (Reference 3).

The college had all the resources necessary for developing sports technologies, including IT, electronics, medical biosciences and other courses, device and computer architecture, software including proprietary operating systems, modeling and numerical computation, biochemistry, physical property, and materials. Correlating sensor signals with physical abilities, statistical data processing, modeling, and adjusting equipment for enhancing physical abilities, etc., were carried out there.

Sports technology also being utilized in armed forces and businesses

Photo: photoAC

The fact that the booming sports technology business in other countries has eclipsed that of Japan can be clearly seen from the major difference in business size. The sports industry in the U.S. has ballooned to approximately 50 trillion yen, while the industry in Japan remains as small as 5 trillion yen. Since the U.S. is three times larger than Japan in GDP, the Japan Sports Agency has set a goal of growing the Japanese sports industry to 15 trillion yen. However, it seems the path toward realizing this goal has not yet been established.

Another reason why sports technology is robust in other countries, especially in the U.S., the U.K., and Australia, is said to be because some funds have come from their defense budgets. Sports training methods and soldier management methods share some similarities and develop many common abilities, such as kinetic vision, hand-eye coordination, i.e., the ability to react instantly upon seeing something and the ability to avoid something correctly. Athlete’s injuries also share some commonalities with soldier’s lower back and knee injuries. For these reasons, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) under the U.S. Department of Defense has invested in sports technology startups.

The application of sports technology is not limited to improving sports alone. It is said that sports technology can also improve consumer's and business people's sleep quality. For example, it can be utilized to collect such data as how much sleep is necessary and the threshold level for a surgeon to maintain competence when carrying out surgery.

This technology could also become an ace in dealing with the coming aging society. The biggest cause of skyrocketing medical expenses is said to be the number of bedridden elderly persons. When an elderly person’s knee joint or leg bone deteriorates as the result of a fall, the risk that the person will become bedridden increases. To reduce the number of bedridden elderly persons, it is important to prevent bone-related diseases by helping the elderly increase their bone and muscle mass.

Furthermore, heart rate variability (HRV), which has been used in sports technology, is also being used in detecting heart disease and preventing heatstroke. Heatstroke prevention measures have become necessary at school events, construction sites, and warehouses, and the demand for them is large. Monitoring HRV is also said to help prevent sleepiness during day-to-day activities.

We need to stay tuned to the flow of how sports technology spreads from sports to the business and educational world. The final part of the series will introduce technologies used for providing fairer refereeing.


How Is Machine Learning Changing Sport? (Innovation Enterprise)
USA Cycling brings IoT data and analytics to the track
System-integrated Second-generation Sensor Technology (2)—U.K. Using This Technology in Olympics
The contents of the article is at the time of announcement.


Kenji Tsuda

International technology journalist, technology analyst

Kenji Tsuda is a freelance technology journalist who writes both in English and Japanese. With over 30 years of work experience covering the semiconductor industry, Tsuda has been offering various insights to the industry through his blog ( and analytical articles. He is editor in chief of the Semiconportal site ( and writes the “Car Electronics” article series for Mynavi News site as a columnist.

Tsuda started his career as a semiconductor device development engineer, before becoming a reporter for the Nikkei Electronics magazine at Nikkei McGraw-Hill (now Nikkei BP). At the company, he created several magazines including Nikkei Microdevices (in Japanese), Nikkei Electronics Asia, Electronic Business Japan, and Design News Japan (in English), and Semiconductor International Japanese Edition. Tsuda went freelance in June 2007 as an international technology journalist. Books he authored in Japanese include Megatrend in Semiconductors 2014-2023 (Nikkei BP), Why We Shouldn’t Let Go of the Semiconductor Industry (Nikkan Kogyo Shimbun, Ltd.), The Truth about the European Fabless Semiconductor Industry (Nikkan Kogyo Shimbun, Ltd.), The Latest Trends in Green Semiconductor Technology and New Businesses 2011 (Impress Corp.).