Japan pushes high-tech in World Cup bid

TOKYO — Forget 3D TV: Japan is ready to take sports coverage to a whole new level if its bid to host the 2022 football World Cup is accepted.

The country’s bid includes ultra-realistic holographic broadcasts of games, a virtual camera technology that would allow viewers to see the action from almost any angle, and smartphone-like devices that would provide automatic translation.

The focus on technology is unusual for a World Cup bid, which typically focuses on stadiums, transportation, hotels and the other logistics required to hold the world’s largest sporting event. Japan feels it proved its skills in these areas when it successfully co-hosted the 2002 World Cup with South Korea, thus the focus in other areas.

“After learning so much in the 2002, we think it’s time to give something back to the world,” said Suminori Gokoh, chief director of the Japan 2022 Bid Committee, in an interview. “Our starting point is to deliver the joy of football not only to the hosting country, but all over the world.”

It’s through holographic broadcasts that Japan proposes to do this.

The bid, outlined in a video that shows simulations of the technologies, envisages public viewing “fan-fest” events in all 208 FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) nations where live, holographic coverage of the games could be viewed.

Fans would gather in stadiums thousands of kilometers from the action and watch holographic projections of players running around on the pitch. The aim is to provide fans with an experience as close as possible to being in the stadium where the actual event is taking place.

The bid also envisages a virtual camera technology that would allow TV viewers to fly around the pitch and watch the action from any angle.

“It’s as if you were not only in the stadium but on the pitch,” said Gokoh. “You can choose every angle you like to see. Player’s actions, and referees and goals. Everything.”

Japan is also planning an application that will help fans communicate through automatic translation — like a real-life version of the universal translator in the TV show Star Trek — and bring all sorts of information to fans through augmented reality.

“We use devices like the iPhone and produce the application so people can see any live information during the match,” said Gokoh.

A delegation from FIFA, football’s world governing body, wrapped up a 4-day visit to Japan on Thursday that included closed-door demonstrations of some early prototypes of the technology.

“We had a demonstration with five technologies,” said Takuto Maruyama, managing director of the Japan 2022 Bid Committee, at a Tokyo news conference on Thursday. “We were able to show how 60,000 people in a stadium would be able to see 3D images with their naked eyes without wearing special glasses.”

The FIFA team didn’t drop any hints as to how the bid had been received, but the technological aspects of the plan were noted.

“We must say that it is a very balanced project mixing football traditions, modern stadiums plus new technology with eco projects and integration with the world,” said Harold Mayne-Nicholls, head of the delegation, during a news conference.

The FIFA team will visit several other countries before submitting reports to FIFA members. The organization is due to choose the host nation for the 2022 World Cup on Dec. 2 this year.

The big question for Japan is: Can it realize these high-tech dreams?

“Of course, this isn’t something we can do immediately,” said Kohzo Tashima, secretary general of the Japan Football Association, at a news conference. “We showed four or five technologies that could be developed with the right research.”

The country has brought together a coalition of companies, research institutes and universities under the chairmanship of Jun Murai, a professor at Tokyo’s Keio University, to work on the systems. Murai is one of Japan’s most famous computer scientists and is widely regarded as “father of the Japanese Internet.”

“It was actually my first time seeing this, but it was very realistic,” said Tashima of the demonstration. “I believe the people who saw them understood that they can be researched and turned into something that can actually be used.”

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