Electrical and electronic systems behind every sports event

An enthralling experience for audiences and athletes alike thanks to IEC International Standards

By Morand Fachot

More than ever before the two major sports event of 2016, the European Football Championship, Euro 2016, and the 2016 Olympics Games, are supported by high-tech electrical and electronic equipment and systems. These make it possible to provide the best possible coverage on and off the venues and ensure high commercial returns for investors and sponsors.

pressure sensitive starting blocks Pressure-sensitive starting blocks, the cable provides both the sensor data and sound of the starter to arrive at each speaker behind the athlete at exactly the same time (Photo: Andrew Hecker)

Ensuring precise results on the field

An unprecedented wide range of electronic systems will be deployed on sports fields and venues where these special sports events are held this year. On the field they include starting and measuring devices providing accurate measuring.

Starting pistols, used to give athletes the sound signal to start an event, are no longer actual pistols firing a blank range, but advanced electronic devices that send a sound signal and start timing equipment using sensors.

Likewise, starting blocks used in track and field sprint events are no longer simple devices used merely to hold the runners’ feet, but pressure sensitive systems that include sensors and speakers that give athletes the start signal at exactly the same time and detect false starts. They are connected to the timekeeping room.

In swimming competitions sensors in touch pads installed in each lane are activated when swimmers push them slightly when they finish, to record a touch.

International Standards for a variety of sensors, such as pressure sensors, used in sports events are prepared by IEC Technical Committee (TC 47): Semiconductor devices.

In tightly-held competitions determining who is the winner and providing instant results to spectators is possible. In track and field events light curtains, which consist of electrosensitive photoelectric barriers of several aligned beams between emitting and receiving columns are used. Interrupting a single beam triggers a signal. International Standards for electrosensitive equipment that apply to these systems and also to industrial protective equipment, are developed by IEC TC 44: Safety of machinery – Electrotechnical aspects. They include International Standards for electrosensitive protective equipment using active optoelectronic protective devices, vision-based protective devices or passive infra-ed protective devices.

Reporting events live to hundreds of millions

Broadcasting transmitting and receiving equipment, and electronic display devices are central to the global coverage of major sporting events, and for the associated commercial returns.

The fully audited global viewing figures for the EURO 2016 matches will not be known for some time, but broadcasters are confident that the numbers may surpass the 299 million viewers worldwide who watched the Spain-Italy final in 2012.

The 2012 Olympic Summer Games in London had a total global TV audience of approximately 3,64 billion.

International Standards for audio, video and multimedia systems and equipment, and for electronic display devices used to bring events to viewers in their homes are developed by, respectively IEC TC 100: Audio, video and multimedia systems and equipment, and IEC TC 110: Electronic display devices.

IEC TC 103: Transmitting equipment for radiocommunication, develops some Standards for equipment such as terrestrial digital TV transmitters.

As for the codecs needed to digitally compress video and audio content to broadcast standard and high definition TV signals, they are developed by a Subcommittee (SC) of Joint Technical Committee (JTC) 1 set up by the IEC and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 29: Coding of audio, picture, multimedia and hypermedia information.

Night show!

Allowing life viewing and broadcasting of sporting events held in the evening or at night requires appropriate lighting. Advances in light-emitting diode (LED) technology mean that LED floodlights are now bright enough to be used for illumination purposes on large sports fields. Although they can cost nearly four times as much as traditional high intensity discharge (HID) lamps such as metal halides floodlights, they radiate very little heat and last significantly longer. They can be switched on and off instantly, requiring no warm-up period.

IEC TC 34: Lamps and related equipment, and its SCs prepare International Standards for all types of lamps and luminaires used in sports venues.

LED floodlights are also able to provide the high lumen output required for high-definition broadcast standards, with a significant reduction in flicker during slow-motion broadcast replays on high-definition TVs.

Showing events and results, and commercials on and off grounds

Another use for LED lighting in stadiums is in digital signage, using ribbon boards and video boards to display advertising, show scores and play videos.

Virtual advertising use digital technology to insert virtual advertising images into a live or pre-recorded television show, mainly sports events, allowing broadcasters to replace real advertising panels with virtual on-screen images when broadcasting the same event in several regions not concerned with local advertising. The viewer has the impression that the advertising image he/she sees on screen is the one in the reality.

A 2014 survey of 70 leading American sports venues by Mobile Sports Report (MSR), a US website on stadium technology news, indicated that the primary use of signage was for advertising, followed by game information and player statistics, details of concession stands, video replays and safety announcements and messages.

Typically, a stadium will have two enormous digital video screens and scoreboards high above opposite ends, positioned so that at least one is visible from every seat, even in bright sunlight, complemented by a vast number of smaller flat screen video displays installed throughout the venue.

The global digital signage market, covering all applications, including sports events and venues, and technologies used in ultra-high definition, LED, organic LED (OLED), which was valued at USD 16,88 billion in 2015 is forecast to reach USD 27,34 billion by 2022, according to MarketsandMarkets.

All these systems and equipment, and many more used in sporting events and venues, depend on IEC International Standards, ensuring they help athletes achieve good performance and providing  positive and enriching experience for sporting fans and spectators.  

Poznan stadium Poznań (Poland) football stadium at night (Photo: Philips)
scoreboard Electronic scoreboard at Joe Louis ice hockey Arena, Detroit, Michigan
pressure sensitive starting blocks Pressure-sensitive starting blocks, the cable provides both the sensor data and sound of the starter to arrive at each speaker behind the athlete at exactly the same time (Photo: Andrew Hecker)