While watching recent sports events (congratulations to the England Women’s Cricket Team winning the ODI World Cup!), it’s been great to see the innovation and inclusion of light as an integrated tool, rather than just a source to watch by.
Lighting for sporting events has become part of the showpiece: from fireworks to motorised projectors, all increase the spectacle and strive to wow the audience (if you like that sort of thing), sometimes taking on the look of a music concert. Even darts has taken a leaf out of the “How to stage a boxing ring entrance” handbook.
As we know, the main aspect of lighting in sport is to illuminate players, equipment, and playing surfaces, to a level that enables the activity to take place and for spectators to see the action. TV also has specific requirements when it comes to lighting and sport, and with the use of HD and 4K/Ultra HD, lighting looks to play an even bigger role in the future. What lies ahead is exciting, but I’m also looking with great interest at the use of light as an integrated part of the sport that I’m personally watching today.
The use of light as a tool in sport isn’t completely new: it’s been used to indicate scores, like in ice hockey and water polo where goal judges press a handheld remote to a flashing red beacon.
For fencing, like in last year’s Rio Olympics, the action was made easy to follow because of LEDs that were integrated into the competitors’ helmets and each piste. On top of this, the background illuminance was dark, with specific spotlighting and emphasis on the action. All in all it made for an event that was more “visually” exciting for viewers. (Leon Paul London created playing areas with colour change lighting for London 2012 – these were adapted and improved on for Rio.)
A search for “Lighting in Sports” will 99 times out of 100 bring up the result of “Sports Lighting”, and the new and wonderful luminaires that are used to illuminate indoor and night-time sporting events. It’s very difficult to actually find information relating to the use of active light effects integrated into the sport itself, to indicate a score or to define a boundary.
In cricket, since 2013, “flashing stumps” (the Zing wicket system) have been used in hundreds of domestic and international T20 matches, where the bail and adjacent stump flash integrated LEDs when both ends of the bail are completely detached. This is more of a tool for the umpires to assist in the correct decision being made, rather than total dependence on their view of a split second event. All the same, I think it’s a great idea.
Playing surfaces have also used integrated lighting in the past to define a sports court layout and allow for a quick change from sport to sport – for example, from five-a-side football to basketball. But, the system and bespoke flooring required does put it out of the reach for most sports centres.
The most common form of light used in sports is a laser: they enable the accurate measurement of distances and positions as part of an event. Laser systems have also been utilised to aid referees and umpires, but also to define a state in play.
Televised sport uses an array of TV trickery with augmented reality to show the path of a golf ball or a score projection onto the pitch, or even the line of an offside call. But because it’s TV, the actual fans who attend the event lose out, to some degree, on the show (with the added enhancements) that those see at home in their comfy chairs – it’s here that laser projection could provide a visual spectacle, as well as help those actually there follow calls, scores and decisions.
While the use of active or integrated light into sporting events is in its infancy (relatively), and will greatly improve the game of choice, it’s crucial that any use is focused and not distracting to the participants. The refinement of the control of light e.g. flash, line, colour change, needs to be designed accordingly to make sure the spectacle doesn’t start to resemble a pinball machine – the thought of White Hart Lane’s goal posts going “disco” every time we (Tottenham) score makes me feel a little bit ill.
It’s not a medium that can be applied to all sports of course (lasers and Crown Green Bowling maybe overkill), but using light in sport can help wow, and inspire the audience and participants…if done correctly. Osram has already helped give us a peek of the (possible) future with ice hockey players wearing novelty strips kitted out with all sorts of LEDs…
So…here’s hoping that Tokyo 2020 will keep the innovations coming!