Sports today use increasingly complex technologies to enhance performance.
We have seen some considerable leaps forward in sporting performance as a direct result of technology either used during competition or in training, but the big question is which technology has had the biggest impact on its respective sport?
Below, we have listed the top 5 technologies that have had a profound effect on sports.
Several sports have adopted in-game video analysis and video refereeing.
This includes rugby, the NFL, tennis and even soccer (to a lesser extent). It has meant that decisions can be made quickly and accurately, allowing correct decisions to be made in more instances as these games become increasingly fair.
Many believe that this has taken some of the fun out of sport, but the truth is that it simply makes it fairer and creates a situation where players know that should they break a rule, they are far more likely to be caught.
Having several cameras around a pitch has also had a major effect on the way that players are analyzed after competition across almost every sport. The ability to look at a performance on a screen and make judgements on it has allowed coaches and analysts to look at individual elements of a performance and make decisions based on what they can see. This is then filtered into the training regimes of the athlete, allowing for better performances and better chances of success.
Cycling used to be very much a sport of feel and arbitrary judgement, riding a certain distance or climbing up a particular hill so many times was enough to prepare people for a race. Along came heart rate monitors and people could train within particular heart rate zones, but this was still only analyzing what the effort was doing to the body, rather than what the effort was doing for the actual performance.
When power meters came along, it allowed cyclists to train in accordance with how much power they were pushing through the pedals. Having the ability to train at a consistent level with the readings appearing on a screen in the handlebars meant that consistent power could be achieved, something that is vital in the modern day peloton. Team Sky may not have been the first team to use power meters, but the way they utilized them changed the way that every professional team trains and has totally changed the landscape of cycling from a sport based on feelings to arguably the most number intensive sport in the world.
Similarly, we can see the use of GPS sensors that have allowed rugby, football and soccer coaches to see exactly where a player is at any point during a match, then look at their movements and see how these can be changed to improve the athlete.
These kinds of sensors are also constantly evolving and getting smaller, making even more impact on performance whilst being able to pick up the most minute information. It has been predicted that soon they will be embeddable within everyday clothing, allowing for complex measurements to be taken constantly and improving analysis even further.
Drug Testing & WADA
Not strictly an individual technology, but more a collection of technologies that has changed almost every sport in the world.
Until 1999 there had been small scale and uncoordinated drug tests across individual sports, but these were fairly easily bypassed and in many sports drug abuse to improve performance was endemic.
Since then, WADA (World Anti Doping Agency) has helped to push forward the use of drug testing technologies to help fight the use of performance enhancing drugs in sport. This has levelled the playing field in many sports and helped to weed out some of the biggest drugs cheats in world sport, from Lance Armstrong to Dwayne Chambers.
It has given faith in performances back to the athletes too. Before when an outstanding individual performance occurred it was treated with a degree of suspicion, today thanks to this technology, people may have doubts, but athletes can point to reliable drugs testing to show that it is a clean result.
Aero and Hydrodynamics
When elite athletes in sports that require speed and stamina perform in competition, they need to be able to do so with minimum resistance and this has been recognized across several sports today. From the materials used in swimming costumes through to the curves on a Formula 1 car, the understanding of aero and hydrodamics has allowed the performance of athletes to minimize air resistance and increase speed.
The use of aerodynamics as a decider between winning and losing was shown emphatically in the 1989 Tour de France final time trial where Greg LeMond sat in second place 50 seconds behind Laurent Fignon. He adopted aerodynamic handlebars and helmet whilst Fignon did not. LeMond eventually beat Fignon by 58 seconds, winning the three week event by only 8 seconds. Later analysis through wind tunnel data showed that the use of the bars alone gained LeMond 1 minute and the helmet 16 seconds. Essentially if Fignon had adopted this new technology, he would have won the event.
Having the ability to analyze millions of data points has meant that sports teams and athletes can look at the tiniest successes or failures within any performance and either recreate or remove particular conditions.
It has meant that everything that an athlete does can be interconnected and assessed to divide a performance into its individual elements, rather than as a simple whole. It has been the basis of the current obsession with marginal gains that coaches are interested in. The idea behind this being that if they can find a 0.1% improvement in any part of a performance, then this will give them a slight advantage, but if they can find this number in several areas then they can add up to a significant improvement. It was this philosophy that led the British Olympic team to much success during the past 3 Olympics.
This philosophy is only made possible through the use of data analytics as it allows for the tiniest details of an athletic performance to be studied, seeing where small improvements can be made and how athletes can improve their chances of success.
Paypal to allow users to buy, hold and sell four cryptocurrencies
“The shift to digital forms of currencies is inevitable, bringing with it clear advantages in terms of financial inclusion and access; efficiency, speed and resilience of the payments system; and the ability for governments to disburse funds to citizens quickly,” said Dan Schulman, president and CEO, PayPal.“Our global reach, digital payments expertise, two-sided network, and rigorous security and compliance controls provide us with the opportunity, and the responsibility, to help facilitate the understanding, redemption and interoperability of these new instruments of exchange. We are eager to work with central banks and regulators around the world to offer our support, and to meaningfully contribute to shaping the role that digital currencies will play in the future of global finance and commerce.”
This is great news for crypto but I’m told it shouldn’t have been entirely unexpected In June, there was a report that Paypal was working on direct crypto sales.
Nokia awarded contract to build 4G network on the moon
Nokia has been awarded a contract to establish a 4G network on the moon. The contract is one of several that NASA is awarding to companies as it plans a return to the moon.
The $14.1 million contract was given to Nokia’s US subsidiary and is a small part of the $370 million total awarded to companies such as SpaceX. The cellular service will allow astronauts, rovers, lunar landers, and habitats to communicate with one another according to Jim Reuter, the Associate Administrator for NASA’s Space.
The 4G network that Nokia will build will be miles superior to the form of communication that was used during the early missions to the moon.
This is not Nokia’s first attempt to launch an LTE network on the moon. It planned to do so in 2018 in collaboration with PTScientists, a German space firm, and Vodafone UK to launch an LTE network at the site of the Apollo 17 landing but the plan never came to fruition.
Stripe acquires Nigeria’s Paystack for $200M+ to expand into the African continent
When Stripe announced earlier this year that it had picked up another $600 million in funding, it said one big reason for the funding was to expand its API-based payments services into more geographies. Today the company is coming good on that plan in the form of some M&A.
Stripe is acquiring Paystack, a startup out of Lagos, Nigeria that, like Stripe, provides a quick way to integrate payments services into an online or offline transaction by way of an API. (We and others have referred to it in the past as “the Stripe of Africa.”)
Paystack currently has around 60,000 customers, including small businesses, larger corporates, fintechs, educational institutions and online betting companies, and the plan will be for it to continue operating independently, the companies said.
Terms of the deal are not being disclosed, but sources close to it confirm that it’s over $200 million. That makes this the biggest startup acquisition to date to come out of Nigeria, as well as Stripe’s biggest acquisition to date anywhere. (Sendwave, acquired by WorldRemit in a $500 million deal in August, is based out of Kenya.)
It’s also a notable shift in Stripe’s strategy as it continues to mature: Typically, it has only acquired smaller companies to expand its technology stack, rather than its global footprint.
The deal underscores two interesting points about Stripe, now valued at $36 billion and regularly tipped as an IPO candidate. (Note: It has never commented on those plans up to now.) First is how it is doubling down on geographic expansion: Even before this news, it had added 17 countries to its platform in the last 18 months, along with progressive feature expansion. And second is how Stripe is putting a bet on the emerging markets of Africa specifically in the future of its own growth.
“There is enormous opportunity,” said Patrick Collison, Stripe’s co-founder and CEO, in an interview with TechCrunch. “In absolute numbers, Africa may be smaller right now than other regions, but online commerce will grow about 30% every year. And even with wider global declines, online shoppers are growing twice as fast. Stripe thinks on a longer time horizon than others because we are an infrastructure company. We are thinking of what the world will look like in 2040-2050.”
For Paystack, the deal will give the company a lot more fuel (that is, investment) to build out further in Nigeria and expand to other markets, CEO Shola Akinlade said in an interview.
“Paystack was not for sale when Stripe approached us,” said Akinlade, who co-founded the company with Ezra Olubi (who is the CTO). “For us, it’s about the mission. I’m driven by the mission to accelerate payments on the continent, and I am convinced that Stripe will help us get there faster. It is a very natural move.”
Paystack had been on Stripe’s radar for some time prior to acquiring it. Like its U.S. counterpart, the Nigerian startup went through Y Combinator — that was in 2016, and it was actually the first-ever startup out of Nigeria to get into the world-famous incubator. Then, in 2018, Stripe led an $8 million funding round for Paystack, with others participating, including Visa and Tencent. (And for the record, Akinlade said that Visa and Tencent had not approached it for acquisition. Both have been regular investors in startups on the continent.)
In the last several years, Stripe has made a number of investments into startups building technology or businesses in areas where Stripe has yet to move. This year, those investments have included backing an investment in universal checkout service Fast, and backing the Philippines-based payment platform PayMongo.
Collison said that while acquiring Paystack after investing in it was a big move for the company, people also shouldn’t read too much into it in terms of Stripe’s bigger acquisition policy.
“When we invest in startups we’re not trying to tie them up with complicated strategic investments,” Collison said. “We try to understand the broader ecosystem, and keep our eyes pointed outwards and see where we can help.”
That is to say, there are no plans to acquire other regional companies or other operations simply to expand Stripe’s footprint, with the interest in Paystack being about how well they’d built the company, not just where they are located.
“A lot of companies have been, let’s say, heavily influenced by Stripe,” Collison said, raising his eyebrows a little. “But with Paystack, clearly they’ve put a lot of original thinking into how to do things better. There are some details of Stripe that we consider mistakes, but we can see that Paystack ‘gets it,’ it’s clear from the site and from the product sensibilities, and that has nothing to do with them being in Africa or African.”
Stripe, with its business firmly in the world of digital transactions, already has a strong line in the detection and prevention of fraud and other financial crimes. It has developed an extensive platform of fraud protection tools, but even with that, incidents can slip through the cracks. Just last month, Stripe was ordered to pay $120,000 in a case in Massachusetts after failing to protect users in a $15 million cryptocurrency scam.
Now, bringing on a business from Nigeria could give the company a different kind of risk exposure. Nigeria is the biggest economy in Africa, but it is also one of the more corrupt on the continent, according to research from Transparency International.
And related to that, it also has a very contentious approach to law and order. Nigeria has been embroiled in protests in the last week with demonstrators calling for the disbanding of the country’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad, after multiple accusations of brutality, including extrajudicial killings, extortion and torture. In fact, Stripe and Paystack postponed the original announcement in part because of the current situation in the country.
But while those troubles continue to be worked through (and hopefully eventually resolved, by way of government reform in response to demonstrators’ demands), Paystack’s acquisition is a notable foil to those themes. It points to how talented people in the region are identifying problems in the market and building technology to help fix them, as a way of improving how people can transact, and in turn, economic outcomes more generally.
The company got its start back when Akinlade, for fun (!) built a quick way of integrating a card transaction into a web page, and it was the simplicity of how it worked that spurred him and his co-founder to think of how to develop that into something others could use. That became the germination of the idea that eventually landed them at YC and in the scope of Stripe.
“We’re still very early in the Paystack payments ecosystem, which is super broken,” said Akinlade. The company today provides a payments API, and it makes revenue every time a transaction is made using it. He wouldn’t talk about what else is on Paystack’s radar, but when you consider Stripe’s own product trajectory as a template, there is a wide range of accounting, fraud, card, cash advance and other services to meet business needs that could be built around that to expand the business. “Most of what we will be building in Africa has not been built yet.”
Last month, at Disrupt, we interviewed another successful entrepreneur in the country, Tunde Kehinde, who wisely noted that more exits of promising startups — either by going public or getting acquired — will help lift up the whole ecosystem. In that regard, Stripe’s move is a vote of confidence not just for the potential of the region, but for those putting in the efforts to build tech and continue improving outcomes for everyone.
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