On the wrong track? Questioning use of EPTS in the Football League

Electronic Performance and Tracking System (EPTS) devices have been endorsed by Fifa but questioned by Football League managers in their use this week. Laura Jones asks what the issue is?

The BBC did an expose on Panorama about Amazon and how their warehouse staff were tracked and timed as they collected items for despatch. The timer quickened as they neared the end of their allotted time to find and collect the customer order. The device sounded like a Mission Impossible bomb about to detonate, which would take the employee out for not walking quickly enough.

It’s what springs to mind when I think about the Fifa-endorsed Electronic Performance and Tracking Systems which players are now allowed to wear to monitor their performance.

The Football League have felt obliged to issue a statement about the use of EPTS devices after the bizarre circumstances at the beginning of the Wycombe Wanderers v Plymouth Argyle game last week.

Plymouth manager Derek Adams noticed that Wycombe players were wearing the new device under their shirts. The device use Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to track how far and how fast players are running. Adams queried the legality of using such technology and the start of the game was held up for seven minutes until Wycombe’s club secretary could print out an email to say they had permission to use them.

Wycombe did have the Football League’s consent to use them. They are one of around 20 clubs who have taken the opportunity to use this software to develop players by really honing in on the peaks (and troughs) of their own performance.

So what was the issue?

The Plymouth manager questioned the safety of using EPTS. He told BBC Sport: “We noticed that they had this system sticking out of their back. If somebody goes in and heads it, then that’s a dangerous bit of equipment.”

These devices have been used in rugby union, rugby league and American football for years and there haven’t been circumstances of players injuring themselves or others on an EPTS device, mainly because they’re contained within a padded vest. Let’s face it these sports have significantly more body contact than football does so the likelihood of player injuries is minimal.

The devices are useful for monitoring the player’s health. If there are significant drops in the player’s performance the EPTS can be used to see if a player requires further rest or even a health check-up.

The physical safety of players seems minimal and the Adams argument against their use seems to be one of the Ludditie. My concern would be that the devices may effect a player’s mental state. If the data is used as a stick to beat the player with because their stats are not optimal, it may have a continuing negative effect on their performance. Like the Amazon warehouse staff, performance targets can be arbitrary and punishing.

We wouldn’t want David Nugent beeping because he’s not put in the mileage would we?

Follow Laura at @YICETOR

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