Photonics is a Player at the 2014 FIFA World Cup

At the FIFA World Cup, 800 players and their coaches are responsible for showcasing the “Beautiful Game” to the world – the clever tactics, the graceful moves, the spectacular strikes.

Behind the scenes, however, the field of photonics has been a most valuable player in the development and ever-increasing popularity of the sport, contributing to lighting technology, image transmission, photography, and even art.

With the shifting of kickoff times into the evening hours, the world of sports — and of football in particular — entered a new dimension, both in an aesthetic and an economic sense. The latest in floodlighting technology has been installed in sports arenas, with photonics playing a crucial role.

Lighting Technology
It is remarkable to note that the first soccer game involving floodlighting was kicked off in Sheffield/England on October 14, 1878, at 7:30 p.m.[1] – [3] The light intensity then was compared to the power of 8,000 candles [2] [3]. Floodlighting systems have improved continuously ever since. The images of players from the 1970s and 80s, with four shadows cast around them, are gone today, thanks to the uniform illumination of the playing field. According to FIFA regulations, today’s modern stadiums must reach an illuminance of around 2,500 lx.[1] São Paulo’s floodlighting system consists of 350 headlights [4] [6], each powered by more than 2,000 watts and together reaching a wattage of about 725 kW.

Taking into account the Brazil World Cup playing schedule [7], the geographical location of the playing venues and their respective sunset times, about 40 World Cup games will have been kicked off under floodlights, amounting to approximately 3,780 min or 726,800 s of floodlighting (these figures also include estimated extra-time periods and penalty shootouts from the round of 16 onwards). With the same amount of energy it will take to light the 2014 World Cup, an Olympic-size swimming pool full of water could be lifted about 6.7 km into the air – 1000 m higher than Mount Kilimanjaro; or a mass equal to half of the Apollo 11 command spacecraft (which returned from the Apollo mission) could be transported from the Earth to the Moon.

Goal-line technology is another area where uniform and high-quality illumination is essential. To provide a clear indication as to whether the ball has fully crossed the goal-line, goals are equipped with seven high-speed cameras each, transmitting data at 500 high-resolution frames per second.

Photographers’ work has been positively impacted in much the same way. Digital cameras allow for noiseless exposures with ISO speeds of up to 25,600 today, which would be unimaginable even at the World Cup in France just 16 years ago.

Yet another challenge for photographers are ‘blink-free’ pictures of entire sports teams. The chance of achieving such a photograph has also risen in proportion to advances in shutter-speed technology, however. [10] – [12]

Thanks to photonics and digital technology, the number of photographs taken during the World Cup games is at a record high as well: Estimates are that around a half million photos are taken per game, 32 million for the entire tournament. What is more, today’s photographers can save and edit their pictures directly in the cloud instead of on memory cards, making them instantly accessible to editors around the globe. Assuming there are 200 accredited photographers (including also remote-controlled cameras) at a game, with an average of 2,500 takes per camera [16], they will produce a total of 24 terabytes of photographic material (125 GB per photographer). Extending this calculation to the entire tournament, each photographer will yield ca. 8 terabytes of material, amounting to about 1600 terabytes for all photographers together. Thanks to photonics, not only do we get to view ever finer and sharper images and broadcasts, but they reach us in real time around the globe through optical fiber technology.

Image Transmission
With smartphones, tablets and the like, modern-day transmission technology provides viewers with a multitude of options and enables them to be their own director [13] [14] through applications that were unimaginable even at the last FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

Finally, football and photonics sometimes play so well together, they create art! For example, the poster collection (below) “No Football — Just Photonics,” which was designed to advertise the 2015 “International Year of Light”. In a series of schematic representations, it shows an optical comb generator, Raman scattering, a photo coupler, an optical ring resonator, an optical fiber, an optical amplifier, a Mach-Zehnder coupler, as well as erbium-doped fiber amplifiers, all working their magic on a soccer field. [15]

International Year of Light 2015

Artwork Poster: No football – Just Photonics; ©

NOTE: This blog post is an abbreviated version of Professor Curticapean’s full publication which can be found on

16) Note: Some data used in this article for calculations are estimates only.

International Year of Light 2015Dan Curticapean, Professor and head of the Media Technology Lab at Hochshule Offenburg University of Applied Sciences.

Professor Curticapean has authored several publications, especially on topics pertaining to the fields of optics and photonics. He currently leads the Magic of Light project team at Hochshule Offenburg which is aimed at encouraging education and enthusiasm around optics, photonics, and physics.


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