Article published in the Times today with Matthew Syed Digital era taking fans closer to action By Matthew Syed and Andy Miah

VIRTUAL reality is upon us. Computer games in the high-street arcade are beginning to resemble exercise machines and an increasingly lucrative cyber-athlete professional league has been established.The United States bobsleigh team used a sled simulator to practice the Olympic run in Turin this year in their search for a critical edge in a competition in which it is almost impossible to practice on new and unfamiliar slopes.

More innovations are in the pipeline, with golf and motor sport leading the way. Fancy playing Augusta, Matrix-style? Digital technologies are increasingly influential on the playing field. Third-eye technology is transforming how events are officiated — Hawk-Eye is set to be used at Wimbledon next summer and cricket is debating whether to equip umpires with hand-held monitors to give them access to technologies familiar to armchair fans.

Radio frequency identification tagging will mean an even greater capacity to monitor and evaluate the actions of athletes on the pitch, including real-time judgments on such things as offside and whether contact has been made between players. Avoidable mistakes by officials could soon be a thing of the past.

The proliferation of mobile digital systems will soon close the gap between athletes and their spectators, where the latter will be able to immerse themselves virtually within the competition zone alongside their favourite athlete.

It is not inconceivable that we will see football teams managed by democratic voting systems.

  • Andy Miah is lecturer in media, bioethics and cyberculture at the University of Paisley and author of Cyber Sport, due out next year