Antisocial, senseless, unruly behavior has often blighted soccer’s worldwide reputation. The notoriety of such behavior has even inspired films such as ‘Green Street’, based on English soccer’s infamous past hooliganism. The inherently tribal nature of the sport will continue to polarize fans and troublemakers in leagues of various levels all over the globe, and Scotland is no different.
However, the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) has now moved to counter this, and is currently considering the use of facial recognition software in stadiums to filter out past culprits. It follows soccer federations like Uruguay’s, which in 2015 investigated using facial recognition for the same reasons.
The technology would work by scanning fans’ faces to identify those with histories of poor behavior. This would include acts such as the use of pyrotechnics, violence and offensive singing or remarks within the stadium. It is hoped that removing the individuals guilty of past offences will help make soccer stadiums in Scotland more friendly, inviting and inclusive, thus encouraging a wider spectrum of people to become involved in the game.
Growing terror concerns within sport will no doubt play a role in advocating the technology’s use as a tool for security. Following the horrific events of Paris, and notably how the Stade de France became embroiled in the affair, security at sporting events has never been such a priority. Facial recognition’s potential use in Scotland may pave the way for more extensive use. Watching professional sport should not come with fear or intimidation, and so facial recognition could prove to be an invaluable tool for not only Scottish soccer, but worldwide sport in general.
However, as is always the way, there are significant hurdles. Most strikingly, the price: it has been suggested that Scotland’s implementation of the software could cost around £4 million($5.7 million dollars at the time of writing). The question is then whether this considerable sum of money could be spent better elsewhere, especially as the SPFL has asked the British Government for financial support. It will, therefore, face opposition from those who believe the British taxpayer’s money could be spent more productively in other areas.
Not only this, but human rights groups have warned that the technology’s risks violating fans’ civil liberties. Jamie Welch, of civil rights group Liberty, is concerned that the ‘intrusive observation’ brings with it dangerous data protection responsibilities- who will have access to the data? This follows on from widespread concerns surrounding this topic- one only has to look as far as Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelations regarding the NSA’s dealings. The Scottish Football Supporter’s Association has also criticised the technology, adding that there is a need to work with supporters, rather than make them feel ‘accused’. As a result of these burdens, the software’s use in a worldwide context may be unlikely.
Facial recognition software in soccer stadiums undoubtedly has huge potential in terms of stadium control, security and antisocial behavior, and a successful introduction into Scottishsoccer might tempt many other major leagues to follow suit. However, the technology’s opposition is considerable, and it may prove to be pivotal that these initial deliberations have arrived in a period of growing data protection and surveillance concerns. Consequently, the use of facial recognition in a wider context may be at the hands of a fascinating debate: is increased stadium security needed at the expense of more fan surveillance? Time will tell which wins out.
Republished with permission by Matt Barker original author and sporttechie.com the original publisher.