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Japan Focuses on the Tech for Its 2022 World Cup Bid

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Some people (Sepp Blatter, raise your hand) are not particularly enamored of the idea of soccer embracing technology, but one country is focusing on this for its bid for the 2022 World Cup. Japan, which hosted the tournament alongside South Korea in 2002, can think of nothing else, and is promising some viewer-friendly special effects that are straight outta the USS Enterprise. But will it go down well with the blazers at FIFA?

With five joint bids for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments, Japan is setting its sights on 2022 alone, reckoning that, since it proved its logistic worth at the 2002 Finals, it can focus on the sexy stuff. And sexy it is, with 3D broadcasts, and holographic matches, in which fans will gather inside non-host stadiums situated in the 208 FIFA countries around the world in order to watch a ghostly version of the match.

“We think that now it’s time to give something back to the world, and
our starting point is to deliver the joy of football not only to the
hosting country but all over the world,” says Suminori Gokoh, Chief
Director of the Japan 2022 Bid Committee. For the TV spectator, there will be Freeviewpoint Vision, using cameras
that offer a pitch-side view of the match from the players’ or match
officials’ vantage points–the sort of stuff that’s more often seen in
game technology. In order to realise ambitions, the Japan 2022 is
looking at the country’s tech firms, as well as its academic
institutions, to make it happen.

Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of AR tech in the bid, as well as the FIFA Hyper application, which looks like Star Trek’s universal translator. The FIFA delegation was given a some of the prototypes, prompting Chilean delegate Harold Mayne-Nicholls to call the bid “a balanced project mixing football traditions, modern stadiums, new tech, eco projects and integration with the world.”

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Ah, football traditions. This is the central tenet of Sepp Blatter’s anti-technology bent, the thought being that a five-a-side kickabout by hungover mates on a Sunday morning on the village green, jumpers for goalposts, and the referee a donkey is basically the spirit that the World Cup should embody. However, whether FIFA is anti technology-for-the-viewer argument is highly unlikely, given the great tournament enjoyed by those of us sat at home. It was just the football–and the ball itself–that sucked. Anyway, logic dictates that, by 2012, there will be goal-line technology at the world cup. Sepp Blatter, on the other hand, will be 86.

Japan’s decision to base its bid on future tech is a bold one. But it’s the right one. It would be easy for FIFA to turn round and refuse the bid on the grounds that the tech has not been invented yet, and therefore it can’t be the basis of Japan’s campaign. But it can be. 2022 is 12 years away–think of the world back in 1998. Most people hadn’t discovered the Internet–and who wanted it, given the dial-up speeds, there wasn’t much flat-screen technology to speak of. Mark Zuckerberg was probably still playing soccer, YouTube was nowhere, Google had only just launched. And Apple was absolutely crap. Only a fool would bet on none of this technology being available, and the smart money would go on a few innovations more.

Japan’s rivals include the U.S., England, Belgium and the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal, Russia, Qatar, Australia and South Korea–Japan’s co-host for the 2002 Finals, and another major player in the tech world. The winner will be announced at the end of 2010.

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About the author

My writing career has taken me all round the houses over the past decade and a half--from grumpy teens and hungover rock bands in the U.K., where I was born, via celebrity interviews, health, tech and fashion in Madrid and Paris, before returning to London, where I now live. For the past five years I've been writing about technology and innovation for U.S

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