Over a decade ago, Fremantle hosted St. Kilda in what would become one of the most controversial matches in AFL history, known to many as Sirengate. With a 33-point lead late in the third quarter, the Dockers looked to be headed for a comfortable victory.
However, the Saints would come charging back, closing the lead to just a single point with less than forty seconds to go in the final quarter. As television viewers watched the official timekeeper’s clock tick down to 0:00, umpire Matthew Nichollls signaled for another ball-up to restart play, having not heard the barely audible siren over the roar of the crowd.
As Fremantle players began to celebrate an apparent win, St Kilda’s Steven Baker kicked from 35 meters out for an attempt to win the match. His shot for goal missed, but scored a behind and tied the game as the time-keeper sounded a siren for a second time.
Several days later, following an AFL investigation of the conclusion of the match, a win was awarded to Fremantle as the final kick was ruled to have come after the siren sounded.
As recently as 2014, the AFL has petitioned stadium authorities at Adelaide Oval to install additional sirens to overcome raucous crowd noise. Limited to 105db for health and safety reasons, umpires, coaches and players often struggle to hear the final siren.
As AFL officials struggle to determine how to avoid another Sirengate in the future, new technology from a start-up in Perth may offer a solution.
Nuheara is an audio wearables, or hearables, manufacturer based in Australia. Their first product to come to market, known as IQbuds, are a pair of Bluetooth wireless earbuds that allow the user to control the audio environment around them. The company website has several videos featuring use cases of the earbuds, such as enabling easier conversation in noisy restaurants for those with “pub deafness”.
From an AFL officiating perspective, an umpire wearing this device could hypothetically configure the earbud settings to cancel out or dim the sound frequencies of the crowd noise, while accentuating those associated with the siren. Similarly, coaches might also benefit from such hearable devices by using them to better isolate the sounds of their players’ voices on the field while turning down ambient crowd noise.
As sporting teams around the globe seek to gain a competitive advantage through louder and louder home stadiums, overcoming such noise will become a bigger issue. Fans of the Kansas City Chiefs, an American football team, set a Guinness World Record by achieving a deafening decibel reading of 142.2 during a 2014 game. That level of noise is roughly equivalent to standing on the deck of an aircraft carrier as a jet takes off.
In such loud environments, perhaps the latest Aussie innovation may prove to be a global solution for sports officials and coaches around the world.
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