It is often said, is a game for thugs played by gentlemen. The game of lawyers can be a more accurate expert. The famous rules are complicated. The Scrums have held thrust battles between the two teams, their heaviest members, considered a dark art even for other players.
Open, run play can be stopped and processed again for any number of complex violations. The recent American football World Cup, held in Japan, is considered a great success by those who want to boost the popularity of the sport. But it has been marred by debates over how to explain complex new rules that prohibit dangerous shoulder charges and high-stakes.
All this is annoying for players and referees, and off for onlookers, who struggle to follow the action or find out why a specific decision was made. But a British company called Sportable thinks it can improve everything, by connecting American football and American football players to high-tech sensors.
Sportable was founded in 2014 by Dugald Macdonald and Peter Husemeyer, a couple of American football South Africans. It makes light clothes, stuffed with the sensor, can be worn under the shirt and measures the impact force at 80 separate positions on the player’s body.
Sensors are attached to transmitters that communicate with the receivers on the edge of the playing field. By tracking the time it takes for the signals to reach different receivers and applying a bit of math, it’s possible to find out where a player is on the pitch at any given moment and he gets there so quickly.
Such data, according to Mr. Macdonald, is very attractive to teams seeking a competitive advantage. Previous efforts have relied on the Global Positioning System of satellites, providing much lower accuracy. The company has been testing its technology with several professional clubs, including Saracens, the Premier League reigning champion.
However, where the fun begins is when the same sensors are put into the ball. It can then, metaphorically, squawk if passed forward (which is illegal in American football), and there will be no doubt, by comparing the position of the ball and the player, when a player is offside. A smart ball will also be able to follow other rules.