Rugby fans of all nations will have sympathised when Irish Captain Paul O’Connell’s career came to a shattering and premature end at the Rugby World Cup last weekend. But his early exit was but one in what has been an injury-riddled start to the tournament – by the end of the pool stage, 22 players had already been ruled out.
But Rugby isn't alone. From tennis to football – every sport is clouded by the threat of injury. The cost to the players, teams and fans is immeasurable but in an era in which sport has become a major commercial endeavour, the consequences can be massive in financial terms too.
In football, during 2015, the estimated average cost of player injuries in the top four professional leagues, EPL, Bundesliga, La Liga and Serie A, was £8.03m per team. Clubs must continue to pay lucrative wages on injured players, while a slump in results caused by injuries will result in reduced earnings through prize money and other avenues.
A small reduction in the number of injuries could therefore make a major impact on the financial cost of sports injuries, not to mention the personal loss for the players.
But could the hamstring injury that so painfully destroyed O’Connell’s dream of hoisting the Web Ellis Cup have been prevented?
No Letting Up
New technology, which crunches data as powerfully as a Springbok tackle, has the potential to provide a game-changing tool that could predict and prevent many of these devastating injuries. It will help us to predict when a player is prone to hurting themselves and provide analytics that enable medical training staff to make appropriate interventions.
What won’t change is the passion and commitment of players. The pressure to perform and keep a place in the squad, especially when it’s a major international tournament such as this year’s Rugby World Cup, is immense. But like other games, every scrum, ruck, maul and tackle has its consequences.
Technology can’t change the reality of a high impact sport like rugby but it can identify ways to make changes to technique, recovery, fitness and agility which can support coaches and medical teams in managing and even preventing injuries before they happen.
SAP’s “Injury Risk Monitor” is one technology which aims to do just that. Currently in proof-of-concept stage, it is beginning to apply the same powerful data analytics used in business to player performance and injury risk in a way that can help staff and players take preventative actions.
Commentators and medical professionals have blamed injuries on everything from the size of the players, to the time of season when a sport is played. The reality is that injuries can happen for any number of reasons, whether it’s over-exertion, age, technique, hydration, the weather or simply bad luck.
Injury Risk Monitor works by assessing vast amounts of data about past injuries, fitness levels and technique, and marries it with contextual information on age, weather and opponents. The information is collected by players with wearable and non-wearable gadgets and crunched using advanced algorithms and software.
The solution can process an unlimited number of factors and derive correlations between them. This even means gathering real-time information during games from Internet of Things (IoT) systems - the data from monitors and sensors connected to things like shin pads and heart rate monitors.
Whether these types of technologies could have prevented O’Connell’s fateful hamstring pull is uncertain, but what seems clear is that if the level of injury seen in this year’s Rugby World Cup is anything to go by, they can’t be implemented quickly enough.
*Injury Cost Data Calculation formula ( Injury Cost = 20% of Payroll); Payroll data: Sporting Intelligence Global Sports Salaries Survey 2015