08 Dec 2022 3 min read

World Cup 2022: photonics in focus

By Aude Martin , Elisa Piscopiello

As the competition intensifies, we look at how photonics is being used inside the stadium and beyond to heighten fans' enjoyment of the 2022 World Cup.


In 1930, Uruguay hosted the inaugural FIFA World Cup. Despite an ambitious construction schedule that was imperilled by heavy rain, the 90,000-seat Estadio Centenario was finished in time to host most of the matches, including the home nation’s eventual victory.

Twenty-four years later, it was Switzerland’s turn. 1954’s World Cup was the first to be televised, allowing the world to witness West Germany beating favourites Hungary 3-2 in the final.

Technology – and particularly photonics, the science of the transmission, manipulation and detection of light – has long been part of the World Cup story. Today, new applications of photonics are bringing fans closer than ever to the audacious goals and nail-biting penalty shootouts as we edge towards the final.

All’s fair in love and football

“Now I can say what I couldn't at that moment, what I defined at that time as The Hand of God. What hand of God? It was the hand of Diego!”

In his autobiography, Diego Maradona acknowledged how his side benefited from the limitations of the refereeing process that existed in 1986.

Today, photonics is allowing faster and more accurate decisions thanks to video assistant referee (VAR) technology.

FIFA officially approved use of VAR at the 2018 World Cup, and the technology had an immediate impact: 2018 featured the fewest red cards and players sent off since 19861, and saw a dramatic rise in the number of penalty kicks awarded as previously overlooked fouls were captured by the digital referee.

How VAR has evolved

The version of VAR used in the 2022 cup represents an evolution of the system used at the 2018 World Cup.

Powered by artificial intelligence and 12 tracking cameras, the VAR system used in Qatar is able to create a virtual model of a player’s skeleton to determine whether any part of their body is offside. Additionally, sensors embedded in the footballs used at the World Cup send positional data 500 times a second to receiving computers, which then deliver automated alerts to match officials.2

3D animation based on VAR data is also shown on the big screens in the stadium and made available to FIFA’s broadcast partners, adding a new perspective on the game for fans.

Fans didn’t have to wait long for VAR to make appearance at this World Cup, as the system was called upon on the first day of the competition during the Ecuador/Qatar clash, resulting in Enner Valencia’s opener for Ecuador being disallowed.

Beyond the pitch: photonics and computing

As well as enabling fairer decisions on the pitch, photonics is contributing to the rapid advances seen in computing, which in turn is revolutionising how fans can enjoy the game.

One example is photonic integrated circuits (PICs), which could herald a sea change in the size and power of chips. Unlike electronic integrated circuits, which use electrons to send signals, PICs use photons.

As the consumption of data worldwide continues to rise – driven by trends such as fans streaming the 2022 World Cup on 5G networks – the energy usage of integrated circuits is increasingly in focus.

Tackling the energy cost of data centres

The energy it takes to deliver digital services is most evident in data centres, where cooling of servers accounts for a large percentage of the total energy usage.3 Data centres and data transmission networks are responsible for nearly 1% of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.4

Although data centres’ global electricity consumption has grown only moderately thanks to efficiency improvements, some smaller countries with expanding data centre markets are seeing rapid growth. For example, data centre electricity use in Ireland has more than tripled since 2015, accounting for 14% of total electricity consumption in 2021.5

Compared with electronic integrated circuits, PICs generate far less heat, which could have a transformative effect on the sector.6 As well as saving electricity, PICs could reduce the use of water to cool server equipment.

Whether you’re watching the big game at home, in the pub or live in Qatar, you can be sure photonics will play a part in your 2022 World Cup experience.


1. Source: https://www.espn.co.uk/football/fifa-world-cup/4/blog/post/3567494/fifa-world-cup-by-the-numbers-most-goals-in-the-knockoutspogba-first-ever-united-player-to-score-in-final

2. Source: https://www.sportsvideo.org/2022 November 28/2022-fifa-world-cup-semi-automated-var-years-in-the-making-making-a-difference/#:~:text=Offering%20a%20support%20tool%20for,exact%20position%20on%20the%20pitch.

3. Source: https://energyinnovation.org/2020/03/17/how-much-energy-do-data-centers-really-use/

4. Source: https://www.iea.org/fuels-and-technologies/data-centres-networks

5. Source: https://www.iea.org/reports/data-centres-and-data-transmission-networks

6. Source: https://techwireasia.com/2020/09/is-photonics-the-solution-for-power-hungry-data-centers/

Aude Martin

ETF Investment Specialist

Aude joined L&G ETF in July 2019 as a cross-asset ETF Investment Specialist. Prior to that, Aude worked as a delta one trader at Goldman Sachs and within the structured-products sales teams at HSBC and Credit Agricole CIB. As an investment specialist, she contributes towards the design of investment strategies and actively supports the ETF distribution and marketing efforts. She graduated from EDHEC Business School in 2016 with an MSc in Financial Markets.

Aude Martin

Elisa Piscopiello

Senior ETF Analyst

Elisa joined LGIM as ETF Analyst in June 2021. She contributes towards the development and analysis of investment strategies, whilst also supporting ETF distribution and marketing efforts. Prior to that, Elisa worked as Multi Asset Investment Support Executive at Liontrust, and as Investment Dealing Assistant at Architas. In 2016 she graduated from the University of Kent with a First Class degree in Financial Economics with Econometrics. She holds the Diploma in Investment Management (ESG) and is a CFA charterholder.

Elisa Piscopiello