Technology is changing the face of football – and why technology leaders should pay attention

President and CTO of Naztec International Group, Sal Pazhoor is a technology leader with over 35 years of experience and 19 patents.


The recently concluded 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar was a truly international event that cheered many hearts and broke many others. For four exciting weeks, spectators from all over the world came together to cheer on their national teams. But one thing – the very object this whole event is based on – didn’t get the hype it deserved: humble football.

Interestingly, a lot of people don’t seem to think much about the round object that the whole game is built on. In reality, the modern soccer ball is much more than a few pieces of polyurethane filled with air; It is indeed a surprising example of modern technology, with Qatar 2022’s own football ‘Al Rihla’ being the first example of ‘connected ball technology’ to be shown during a FIFA World Cup.

My own fascination with this application of technology may stem from playing barefoot soccer in the tiny village in India I come from. After many years and countless struggles, I led the innovation team of a company specializing in the development of new technologies combined with artificial intelligence, robotics and drone technology. Not only as a long-time football fan, but also as the CTO of a technology company, I believe that these new developments can be applied in many areas. In my view, any entrepreneur or business leader can learn important lessons from these recent trends, particularly in relation to thinking outside the box and constantly striving to improve, whether on the football field or elsewhere.

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Connected Ball Technology

Even though cue balls were integrated with sensors even before Al Rihla, it was a revolutionary step to apply this technology to the World Cup. The center of the ball has a suspension system that “houses and stabilizes a 500 Hz inertial measurement unit (IMU) motion sensor,” explained Adidas, the ball’s manufacturer. Capable of sending data at a rate of 500 times per second, this sensor provides highly detailed, real-time insight into every aspect of ball movement throughout the game.

Technology in context: Qatar 2022

Connected Ball technology is promising and exciting, but is it affecting the game? Portuguese soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo could say he does. In the match between Portugal and Uruguay that took place on November 28, 2022, Ronaldo claimed he touched the ball when Portugal scored for the first time; However, the sensor in Al Rihla had not detected a touch from Ronaldo. This gave final credit for the goal to teammate Bruno Fernandes, who had put the ball in play.

Determining which player from the same team scored the goal may not be a crucial moment, but this is a great example of the practical application of technology in the stadium. A similar application, albeit somewhat controversial, is the video referee system that played a role in several match decisions during the last World Cup.

As these two technologies—and who knows how many emerging ones—merge and process data together, it will be interesting to see if refereeing (and the human error that comes with it) becomes a thing of the past.

What the future brings

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So where might these changes take football in the future? Health and performance improvements are the first that come to mind, followed by tactical and strategic improvements that include advanced protective gear and athletic apparel, wearable fitness monitors, virtual reality training simulations, and advanced coaching software. I also envision that with advanced technology combined with AI, the future soccer referee could have a miniature handheld device that would provide him with decision aids for fouls, offsides and other important information.

Technology is already being used to improve the way sport is viewed, both in person and on television. This could include things like virtual and/or augmented reality broadcasts, 360-degree camera angles, and interactive graphics. In the near future, I expect subscription-based augmented reality broadcasts that use the real-world sports environment in 360 degrees to bring this experience to viewers’ homes. Think of the Pokémon Go app where users can combine games with the real world. Applied to sports, this could mean that GPS technology and AI could create an augmented reality where spectators and players interact as real characters in real locations.

Because of this, technology leaders must be open-minded to embrace tomorrow’s demands. A virtual stadium where you experience a game with thousands of others in real-time may sound like a sci-fi screenplay now, but business leaders must constantly remind themselves that they live in an ever-changing world of technology driven by the innovative mindset of youth is driven.

What this means for technology leaders

It’s fun to talk about the future, but in my view, all of these advances – and their impact – may be just around the corner. Entrepreneurs and technology executives are guaranteed to face many challenges right from the start when adopting innovative technologies, and it’s not always easy to see if there’s an opportunity for them to expand into an unexplored, emerging field.

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However, pretty much every major industry has great potential for technological improvement. Leaders should have the determination and eagle eye to overcome challenges and take those opportunities to the next level. To maintain this focus, it’s important to examine what worked and what didn’t with each attempt, and only grow more curious with each failure (and there will be many). It took me more than two years to implement an innovative idea for instant live broadcasting in a foreign language, but in the end it was a success story.

With a multifaceted vision that explores different areas, a leader should be open to integrating insights that could provide a revolutionary idea for improving the world we live in – even if in small increments, one aspect at a time to improve. Oftentimes, an idea that was initially thought fantastic and unattainable turned out to be a groundbreaking marvel in its field.

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President and CTO of Naztec International Group, Sal Pazhoor is a technology leader with over 35 years of experience and 19 patents. Read Sal Pazhoor’s full leadership profile here.

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