If you have sought out this issue of Education Review to escape the relentless rugby natter, I apologise. Sort of. I think it might be nearly impossible to find a corner of New Zealand that doesn’t pay some homage to the game of the odd-shaped ball. And if you are surprised to find an article on rugby in an issue dedicated to technology, perhaps you shouldn’t be. Rugby World Cup 2011 has shown us what a major role technology plays in all aspects of the tournament: the game itself, the preparation involved with hosting a major international event and the surrounding hype.

Technology’s role in rugby

Three little words. One little acronym. Television match official – TMO. It has transformed the game of rugby as we know it, yet many think it isn’t used enough.

You would be hard pressed to find a New Zealander who has forgiven the officials of that infamous 2007 Rugby World Cup quarter-final, where the referee and touch judge both missed a forward pass that eventually led to a try for France and ultimately the victory. The referee wasn’t allowed to consult the TMO.

By contrast, in the same tournament, England was denied a try in the final. This incident was referred to the TMO and with the benefit of multiple replays, the correct ruling was made and South Africa went on to win the final and the title.

Four years later and it still hurts to talk about it. And unfortunately not much has changed. Referees are still only allowed to consult the TMO when they’re uncertain about the placement of the ball or body position of the would-be try-scorer.

A talking point in the early rounds of this rugby world cup was James Hook’s penalty for Wales against South Africa; the TMO wasn’t consulted and the penalty wasn’t awarded. The landscape of the world cup could have been so different had the penalty been granted.

Why is rugby still refusing to embrace technology? Perhaps the ‘what ifs’ are part of rugby’s intrigue. Perhaps the element of human error is part of the sport’s suspense. Sports like cricket and tennis make good use of television replays to ensure the right calls are made. With the advent of Hawk-Eye and Hot Spot, as well as the acceptance of the Decision Review System (DRS), the right decisions are making all the difference.

The robotic world of rugby

While it might appear rugby is sluggish in embracing technology, according to Victoria University Associate Professor

Dr Ian Yeoman, we should prepare ourselves for radical changes to the game by the time Rugby World Cup 2051 is here. Think elite athletes with bionic implants, built-in chips to monitor their performance and shirts embedded with nanotechnology medicines to heal minor injuries. Think robot referees. Think spectators watching matches from hotel bedrooms overlooking the pitch.

It may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but Yeoman’s research reveals that many of the technologies needed to turn his vision into reality have already been invented or are in development.

Take cyborg-style players for example. Yeoman says genetic engineering has given us the means to create designer babies and the technology is already widely used in sports such as horse racing. He says implants are becoming more common for organs, bones and limbs and are increasingly accepted in the field of professional sport. South African double amputee Oscar Pistorius provides a good example in his success in qualifying to compete in the 2012 London Olympics using carbon fibre prosthetic running blades.

Nanotechnology is also a swiftly moving area that is likely to lead to the development of fabric that can destroy airborne germs and pollutants, according to Yeoman. “We are already using antimicrobial technology in shoes to keep them clean and prevent athlete’s foot.” In fact, some sports consultants are predicting that injuries could eventually become almost non-existent due to advances in gene therapy and the ability to use sensor technology to predict an injury before it occurs. Advances in nutrition and other areas of science are also likely to impact on player health and performance.

Yeoman’s predictions extend beyond the players. The introduction of rugby balls with radio frequency identification chips, robot linesmen and light-emitting systems to identify where fouls have occurred will surely remove some of the margin for error in referee decisions.

The way we watch rugby is also likely to be radically different in the future. Yeoman says TV viewers will enjoy life-like 3D images in their indoor or outdoor home theatre while others could stay at a hotel that’s part of the stadium complex, as is already the case with the Marriott Hotel’s six suites overlooking Twickenham.

You may well be reading this in horror. Yeoman is quick to point out that his research looks at what is possible, rather than what is desirable. However he says that ethics are constantly changing. “Things that seem abhorrent now might be widely accepted in 20 years time.”

Off-the-field training for the Cup

Technological advances are not confined to the game itself, but play a significant role in the build-up and preparation for a major sporting tournament, such as this year’s rugby world cup.

The New Zealand 2011 Office offered New Zealand’s frontline organisations the chance to upskill for the cup so that as a nation we could put our best foot forward in welcoming the hordes of international visitors. The upskilling took the guise of a free online training programme, First Impressions, developed by the New Zealand 2011 Office, in conjunction with Rugby New Zealand 2011.

The training was aimed at retail, hotel and restaurant staff but due to an inspired collaboration between New Zealand 2011 and the Aviation, Tourism and Travel Training Organisation (ATTTO), it has also been made available to secondary school tourism students. The two organisations have worked together to develop a classroom worksheet that applies the online training to a level 2, three credit unit standard – 24726: Describe and compare social and cultural impacts of tourism.

It would be foolish not to exploit the opportunity to learn from hosting a major international event such as the rugby world cup. ATTTO chief executive
Elizabeth Valentine says, “For students, particularly tourism students, Rugby World Cup 2011 is a chance to learn how countries and communities can leverage off major events and the kinds of economic, social and cultural benefits they deliver.

“The First Impressions training is a great way for students to learn about the role they have in welcoming visitors this year and how to be great hosts. The additional worksheet will help students understand the value Rugby World Cup 2011 will deliver to New Zealanders.”

In the spirit of all things rugby, ATTTO have devised a Championship Challenge board game – a Rugby World Cup 2011 classroom activity for teachers to introduce the themes of the tournament and Kiwi hospitality before putting students through the online training.

Director of the New Zealand 2011 Office, Leon Grice, says the training will leave a legacy for many young New Zealanders planning a career in tourism.

The training covers how the tournament works, customer service excellence, visitor expectations, the cultures and languages of the visiting teams and fans, and information on the REAL New Zealand Festival and Showcase which run alongside the tournament. Participants will be offered a certificate and badge when they have successfully completed the training.

President of the Restaurant Association of New Zealand, Mike Egan, thinks the First Impressions training programme will be invaluable for customer-service workers, and is urging his members to take part. “As New Zealand’s biggest ever event, Rugby World Cup 2011 is the perfect chance to show people from all over the world why Kiwis are famous for our great service and hospitality. Restaurants and other customer-facing businesses will be crucial when it comes to welcoming our guests in a friendly and memorable way. The training is a chance for staff to learn all the skills they need for the tournament, but will also help to get a buzz going in the workplace and motivate them to deliver an exceptional service. It’s a great feeling for people to know they’re helping to make Rugby World Cup 2011 a success for our country.”

A spectator sport

New Zealand’s entertainment industry is also doing its bit to welcome rugby fans, seguing smoothly from scrums to short films. If you’ve been to Auckland or Wellington during the cup, chances are you will have spotted one of the shipping containers converted by New Zealand On Screen to bring a taste of New Zealand to Kiwis and tourists.

Two converted shipping containers have been installed by The Cloud in Queen’s Wharf in Auckland and the Te Papa promenade in Wellington, and so the South Islanders don’t miss out either, a retro Kiwi caravan has been suped into a mini-cinema for a six week tour of the mainland from Picton to Gore before spending the final fortnight of the rugby world cup camped at Christchurch’s Hagley Park in the Fan Zone.

Inside the containers, visitors are greeted by a “turangawaewae-stirring identity gateway” before getting touchy-feely with a state-of-the-art interactive four metre-long video wall and watching a selection of short films in the retro lounge, which are later shown at night on a video tower atop the containers. There’s also the ‘Scene Stealer’, an iPad app where visitors can take a photo of themselves, be inserted in a classic
New Zealand film or TV scene, and then share the image via email, Facebook and Twitter.

The exhibition is a headline project of the REAL New Zealand Festival, the NZ Identity celebration running alongside the Rugby World Cup 2011.

Technology has certainly allowed New Zealand to host the rugby world cup with panache. Even with just the technology we now take for granted, such as online ticket sales and emailed match information, we are worlds away from hosting the inaugural world cup in 1987. The changes that have occurred in those 24 years and their application to the 188-year-old sport and the hosting of a major competition are enough to make the mind boggle. Just think where we’ll be in the next 24 years. n

First Impressions free online training can be found at www.firstimpressions2011.co.nz

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