How Can AI In Sports Score For Environment And Climate?

Forbes - Claire Poole

March 14, 2024

From opponent analysis, tactical insights, officiating and improving athlete performance, artificial intelligence and machine learning have already been incorporated into sport. The NBA is using generative AI for personalized user content. Two-time Olympic marathoner Des Linden has a digital twin heart to simulate her heart rate, blood flow and oxygen levels, to fine tune training and improve performance. The Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home to Atlanta Falcons, has implemented facial recognition ticketing.

In spite of these impressive applications, reports indicate a modest influence of the sports industry on the global AI market. From June 2020 to June 2023, 363 AI-related patents were granted in the sports sector worldwide, compared to 4,155 in the automotive industry. Here we explore some potential AI applications that could support environmental sustainability and address climate change-related needs for the sports sector.

Athlete injury prevention

Climate change is exacerbating risks to athlete health. Training and competing in extreme heat, poor air quality due to pollution or wildfire smoke or on surfaces hardened by drought are just some of the ways we’re already seeing this manifest. These conditions can contribute to increased risk of injury through dehydration, pulmonary illness, fatigue-induced strain/pull and repetitive strain.

AI offers real-time biomechanics precision monitoring and predictive analysis for athlete form, posture and movement. If indicators of stress or exhaustion are detected, coaches, managers and players could make more informed decisions on intervention, which may reduce the risk of injury in some cases. Wearable devices equipped with sensors and AI offer instant feedback.

Former Australian Diamonds netball player, Amy Steel, suffered a severe heat illness during competition in 2016 that ended her netball career and resulted in potentially lifelong health difficulties. When asked if she thinks AI applications might have helped prevent this, Amy responded, “We can see from my experience that it’s no longer adequate to take a heat and humidity reading before a game, and then assume it will be safe for the remainder of the match.”

She went on, “We know that people have individual responses to heat, and we can see that in my case. I had broken the club fitness testing record only a couple weeks before my heat stroke, and yet I was the player who experienced the most severe heat illness. Perhaps wearables may be able to help understand these individual differences and help to keep players safe. Ideally in the long term we would hope that these type of technologies can translate into better heat management strategies that can enable grassroots sport to continue safely without the need to rely on expensive equipment.”

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