First female Saudi football referee eyes World Cup

First female Saudi football referee eyes World Cup

CAIRO: Football has long been a sport where talent can bring fame, money and the adoration of the crowds. More recently, however, a lot of big data science has become involved, as well.

While football fans around the world are watching their favorite teams on TV, some geeks are staring at their computer screens, collecting data, charts and analytics from a huge set of variables to feed a model that calculates the odds of every shot becoming a goal.

This is what happens on the premises of ArqamFC, an Egyptian startup which specializes in gathering data from football matches played around the planet and analyzing the information.

It sells the insights gleaned to football clubs, agents and brands worldwide, helping them make better decisions based on reliable information.

Its client list currently features some of the biggest clubs in Europe’s premier leagues, including those of France, England and Italy.

“A visit to MIT’s Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston was my first introduction to the field,” says Ali Fakharany, CEO and co-founder of ArqamFC.

The conference started with less than 100 attendees in 2007 but welcomed more than 3,500 registered participants this year, with tickets selling for $850.

Together with Hesham Abozekry and Mohamed Osama, Fakharany founded ArqamFC in May 2017. The three business partners come from very different backgrounds but share a passion for football and problem-solving through the use of big data.

Fakharany graduated from Northeastern University, in Boston,  in 2015 with a Bachelor of Science in business administration, finance and entrepreneurship. Abozekry is an architect, while Osama is a medical doctor with a deeply rooted interest in content creation.

The Cairo-based company, which was initially funded with the trio’s personal savings, was acquired in May of this year by UK football analytics company StatsBomb for an undisclosed amount.

All 130+ ArqamFC employees moved to the newly created enterprise.

It had been anything but smooth sailing for Fakharany and his team when they started out.

The sports business is still catching up in terms of technology adoption, and for a company from the region, it was even more challenging to bring this technology into the football market, which is largely dominated by the major European leagues.

“Finding a product-market fit was difficult. Sports is a closed industry with long feedback loops and a tremendous degree of inefficiency in business processes,” Fakharany said.

This market segment is clearly taking off, driven by the added value of having the correct data about players’ performance, analysis of where every single player on the pitch is at the point of a shot and other data models that enable all stakeholders to make better-informed decisions.

Sports teams are embracing technology to an unprecedented degree, whether on health, player development or tactical analysis.

Commenting on the acquisition of ArqamFC, StatsBomb CEO Ted Knutson said in an official statement, “We are at a tipping point in football, and clubs that are not part of the data revolution will be left behind.”

Using its own in-house data collection software and help from industry analysts, ArqamFC’s team decides which metrics are valuable through a combination of research, experience and feedback from clients.

The data is then visualized and presented in a simple and easy format by means of an online dashboard with insights for coaches and scouts to use.

“The next big thing, I think, is this revolution continuing to go down the pipeline into youth football and influencing it,” said Fakharany.

His company aspires to continue working on the integration of cutting-edge computer vision and machine learning technology into its applications to help automate data collection.

The team also looks forward to serving additional verticals, such as media companies.

•  This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.  “We want to integrate video products across our pipeline to help make our insights more actionable and easier to see,” he said, referring to future plans.

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