Predicting sports injuries with AI
‘Artificial Intelligence: A tool for sports trauma prediction’
By Professor Nicola Maffulli MD MS PhD FRCP FRCS (Orth) – 21st Sept 2019
The following study was published on 19th August, 2019 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31472985
We all know our favourite football team is the best in the world, don’t we? We win on merit and only lose through bad luck and vindictive refs! Since though, this is a piece about the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in sport, let’s also give technology a shout out too! By the end of the 2019/20 season, many of us will no doubt be adding vindictive VAR to the above list. Is predicting sports injuries with AI the way forward?
In the 2010 World Cup, England embarrassingly failed to progress beyond the group stages in South Africa. An early theory was that it was the wrong weight of ball that led to the Lions playing like cubs. Those sneaky Germans had practised with the new weight, hadn’t they?
Then it was a cacophony of up to 94,736 vuvuzelas at 127 decibels apiece at Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium. Remember them? To make it worse, Nicky Campbell, of BBC’s Radio 5 Live, thought it would be ever so amusing to blow his own trumpet during live interviews. Hear a badly played vuvuzela here, then lay down in a darkened room with a cold compress to your head – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UnkKISn-DvQ
As the gods of football wield their mischievous influence on our favourite teams, nowhere is this more apparent than in the realm of injuries. Presumable Apollo had sole responsibility, until the goddess Nike took over after landing a lucrative sponsorship deal?
This brings us to David Beckham. Even in 2002, when he was known as a footballer who could bend it like a banana, he graced the tabloids. In those days, though, it was usually the back pages rather than 50% of all column inches elsewhere nowadays.
Apollo/Nike decided to give a grateful nation a lesson in orthopaedics. They broke the 2nd metatarsal in his left foot. The latter became a popular search term and footballers henceforth began cracking them all over the place. Even those who previously didn’t even know they had one. Well, if you will play in those ballet shoes, son, as their mums might say.
Of course, some players are more injury prone than others. Enjoyable as it is, or at least can be at its best, football is notorious both for short and long-term injuries. It’s a sport, but also big business – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-48444575
Pub car park
A team’s season can be made or broken by a twist of fate or of an ankle. We all know those pivotal players who can make or break our team. Then, during one of those crucial end of season games when you’re fighting relegation, your most talented player, say your goalie, is injured. Your team’s consigned to the next league and bit by bit the revenue dries up and the slippery descent into pub car park football begins.
Whatever an athlete’s discipline, even when a physical injury has healed, the psychological effects linger. If you’ve had a severe hamstring tear, can you ever truly trust yourself to go that extra yard? In football, fine margins of performance are often all that comes between teams in the final analysis.
In the English Premier League, the richest in the world, a player sidelined for much of the season through injury at £100,000 + per week is an expensive luxury. This is even before considering their potential influence on the pitch.
Predicting sports injuries
What, though, if there were a way to predict a player’s vulnerabilities beforehand? Increasingly, studies are substantiating the present and future role of AI In sports medicine.
When the French footballer and cod philosopher, Eric Cantona, came up with “When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea”, heads were collectively scratched. A generation was introduced to the word ‘gnomic’. That it was linked to a kung fu kick to a Crystal Palace fan compounded the confusion.
Bill Shankly, the revered Liverpool manager, was more on point – “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don’t like that attitude. I can assure them it is much, much more serious than that.” Given football’s traditional origins as the sport of the working man, that AI will play a key role in the future of the game takes some leap of the imagination. Then again, the accelerating advance of AI is in itself a leap into an uncharted future.
Who knows, perhaps M.Cantona will have something to say on the matter? After all, in Ken Loach’s film, ‘Looking for Eric’, he says – “I am not a man, I am Cantona.” Perhaps he already knows a bit about Artificial Intelligence ? He also once said, “I don’t want to be The Terminator.”