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Facial recognition could play key role in workplace safety for football players

Facial recognition could play key role in workplace safety for football players

A Player IQ report surveyed 41 national football player unions and found that workplace safety and fan violence is a growing concern, and tech interventions like facial recognition could help keep players safe.

Most unions – 66 percent – believe football fan culture has become increasingly more violent and abusive in recent years, with some regions having larger and more active fan bases. Seventy-four percent of the over 19,600 abusive social media posts during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 came from Europe and South America.

The most common forms of physical abuse players faced in and around the stadium were projectile objects, firecrackers and flares, and threatening songs, chants and signs.

As one can imagine, such a violent work environment takes its toll on players, with 88 percent of respondents saying the threat of violence leads to poor performance and 83 percent saying it contributes to issues with mental health.

Unions believe current security standards are not high enough and that authorities failing to ban fans who commit attacks is a contributing factor to further abuse, with 78 percent stating there should be tougher penalties for those who attack players.

Eighty percent believe that such a change would require efforts to identify individuals, and 98 percent believe technology can play an important role in improving player safety. Most unions support measures like personalized tickets (78 percent), scanners and detectors (73 percent), and facial recognition cameras (68 percent).

“We cannot continue to allow a culture in which footballers are the victims of unchecked and normalized aggression in their working environment,” said Alexander Bielefeld, FIFPRO director of global policy and strategic relations for men’s football. Stakeholders and public institutions should “identify measures that ensure the safety of players, staff and spectators. Clubs, leagues, and federations have a responsibility to ensure that players, as employees, have a safe working environment to perform at their peak.”

In the early months of 2023, the Football Association began trialling security bodycams on referees across 4 different English leagues to deter abuse. Members of the Dutch parliament  have also recently advocated for the addition of facial recognition at stadiums after the Dutch Data Protection Authority ruled against it.

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