Flying cars and robot players: Is this the sport of the future?

A boy plays with a virtual reality headset and controllers
Virgin Media O2
Natalie Clarkson
by Natalie Clarkson
15 November 2023

Nearly 80% of kids want to see new technology added to the sport that they love, according to research from Virgin Media O2.

When asked to suggest some of the tech that they’d love to see added to sport they got inventive and came up with loads of ideas:

  • Smart balls with built in sensors

  • Cameras in footballs

  • Virtual reality headsets for fans so they can see sport through eyes of their favourite players

  • Eco-friendly sports stadiums

  • Injury prevention technology so players don't get injured

  • Advanced safety technology to let coaches know if players are injured

  • Virtual fan interactions which let viewers speak to players

  • Underwater racing cars

  • Exoskeleton suits to make players stronger

  • Artificial intelligence sports commentary

  • Swimsuits which have motors on them

  • Trampolines in basketball

  • Teleportation on golf courses to make the game quicker

  • Artificial intelligence coaches

Controversially, with VAR causing pain for Premier League fans, nearly a quarter of children also said that they want to see tech in football go even further and introduce robot referees.

Children are growing up in the digital world, so it is no surprise to see such an appetite for technological innovations in traditional sports.

However, introducing new technology in sport could encourage more children to get active, with nearly a quarter saying that they would be more likely to play sport if it involved tech. Football, swimming and tennis would all win more players with new tech.

Jeanie York, Chief Technology Officer at Virgin Media O2 added: “For many years, sport has played a vital role in the health, happiness and development of children across the UK. Today’s children are growing up in the digital world, so it is no surprise to see such an appetite for technological innovations in traditional sports. Incorporating the latest technology can help ensure sports remain popular for many years to come.

“Whatever the future brings, it’s clear that connectivity will be crucial in underpinning new technologies and innovations. With our 5G rollout progressing at pace, we are excited to support this next wave of innovation and support technology to reinvent sports in the future.”

Beyond traditional sports, esports are fast becoming popular amongst children. 30% of those surveyed said they have watched esports and 35% have played esports themselves. FIFA was the game of choice for 57% of young people, followed by Fortnite and Call of Duty.

Virgin Media O2’s research comes as the telecoms company partners with Ericsson to provide 5G connectivity for a nationwide tour of the augmented reality esport, Hado, as part of BBC Children in Need’s Game to Give campaign.

Hado is a reinvention of dodgeball, involving players on opposing teams wielding virtual energy blasts and shields on a real-world court thanks to AR headsets and sensors. Teams across the country have faced each other in a tournament for Children in Need, powered by a 5G standalone mobile private network at venues across the country.

The winning team from the regional tournament will be taking part in a specially commissioned live TV show, Game On! For BBC Children in Need, on BBC iPlayer and BBC Three at 7pm on Friday 10 November.