Football fever surrounds the Fortune Global Forum here in Cape Town, South Africa! Amidst the fascinating discussions about finding high-tech solutions to Africa’s problems, one can’t help but appreciate the power of spectator sports to entertain and provide a collective cathartic release for billions of soccer fans both here and around the world. What will watching the World Cup be like a decade from now and beyond?
The spectator experience has been greatly enriched by technology. Before television, people would huddle around the radio in their homes, bars and restaurants and cheer on their favorite teams. Television of course brought enjoyment to another level. This video on YouTube captures the simultaneous jubilation that erupted around the world after Landon Donovan’s goal against England. With HD (high definition) TV, the experience of watching becomes even more real since we can see even the beads of sweat on the goalie's foreheads as the offense approaches. Germany hosted the World Cup in 2006 and amplified the spectator experience by putting huge screens in parks around the country allowing an estimated 18 million people to collect in huge groups to enjoy the games.
In its bid to host the World Cup in 2022, Japan plans to take remote spectator sports to an entirely new level. It has promised that it will, in cooperation with South Korea, create holographic images of the game, allowing you to enjoy a mini-version of it on your dining table as you and your mates drink beer around it, or on your phone, or even as a 3D full-feature live version in your local stadium. This means that you could go to Giants Stadium in New Jersey and watch the US vs. Germany game happening in Tokyo as if it were happening in front of your eyes. The $6 billion plan known as Universal Fan Fest rests on the 200 high definition cameras that will be placed around the stadium, and which will capture all angles of the game and reconstruct the players as avatars on your home field.
Japan estimates it can provide this 3D live feed to 400 stadiums in 208 countries around the world. Some stadiums can hold up to 80,000 spectators, making it possible to reach many times the millions reached by Germany's outdoor 2D projector screens. Whichever stadium you're in around the world, you'll feel like you're witnessing the real thing. Microphones that will be sprinkled on the field where the actual game is taking place will record every sound so that each kick of the ball, player crashing to the ground, or shrill whistle of the referee will be captured perfectly to enhance the virtual experience. Jun Murai, Professor of Environment and Information at Keio University, and director of technology for the World Cup project is confident that the technology will already be available by 2016, giving Japan ample time to perfect it for the World Cup in 2022.
Technologies which enhance the spectator experience do far more than just enrich each individual's enjoyment; they create a whole new level of global spectator connectivity and solidarity. At a time when we worry that societies are becoming fragmented with individuals spending more and more time alone in cyberspace, Japan's plan shows how technology can engender social cohesion as well.
Ayesha and Parag Khanna explore human-technology co-evolution and its implications for society, business and politics at The Hybrid Reality Institute.