What can niche sports teach us about tech?

What can niche sports teach us about tech?

Do you wish LEAP 2023 wasn’t over yet? Us too. But our keynote speakers are hard at work in the world, leading us into the future with new technologies and innovative ideas – and we’re asking them important questions every week.

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This week we’re quoting…

Sean Garnier (Founder of Urbanball)

What Garnier said:

“Technology offers a transformative opportunity for niche sport athletes, levelling the playing field and providing new possibilities for those who need it most.”

Yep. And also…

Tech is definitely creating life-changing opportunities for athletes. And, it’s enabling niche sports to shift away from obscurity and go mainstream.

This is happening both because of tech that gives more people access to a sport (like Urbanball), and because digital tech gives niche sports huge exposure online. In 2023, through the power of technology, even your quietest neighbour might have heard of chessboxing (yes, really – a blend of boxing and chess) or Gaelic football

Niche sports that are going mainstream, via tech

Here are five sports that are popping up in conversation around the world:

  • Roller derby. It’s been dubbed one of the world’s fastest growing sports by numerous media outlets. Teams of skaters on retro four-wheeled roller skates compete on an oval track, and it’s full contact – you’re allowed to knock people off their feet. Unlike most niche sports, it’s known for being dominated by women. It’s big on all the major social media platforms right now, but the roller derby subreddit holds clues as to why it’s growing so fast – there are endless conversations happening all the time between women who play, or are interested in playing. 
  • Bossaball. A fresh version of volleyball invented in Spain in 2004, Bossaball involves teams of four or five players on an inflatable (bouncy) floor with a trampoline at the centre. There is, of course, a net. And there’s always live music or a DJ. Bossa means style in Portuguese, and it’s the style of the sport (with loads of impressive tricks and skills) that means digital virality is built into Bossaball’s bones – #bossaball on TikTok is thriving.
  • Underwater hockey. Teams of six players push a puck along a swimming pool floor, attempting to score, with a goal that measures 3 metres wide. Players wear snorkels so they can keep their eyes on the game instead of completely surfacing for air, but it’s chaotic as they take it in turns to rise to the surface to drag in a breath. This game has actually been around in England since 1954, but now it’s an international sport with a growing following – and in 2019 it was chosen as the new sport to be represented at the SEA Games. On TikTok, the hashtag #underwaterhockey has garnered a substantial following, with 17.8 million views to date.
  • Snowkiting. Because snowboarding just isn’t cool enough these days, snowkiters are stealing the limelight by adding kitesurfing into the snowy mountain mix. They go uphill as well as downhill; break speed records; and their freestyle tricks are both daring and dazzling. Snowkiting has huge visual appeal, which is part of the reason it’s so big on Instagram.
  • Kabaddi. Like a more skilled, team version of ‘tag’, it’s not new at all – but this traditional Indian sport (also the national sport of Bangladesh) is going through a resurgence thanks to the internet. And specifically, thanks to YouTube. Any Kabaddi-curious individual can now find endless live videos of the sport, and instruction videos so they can learn how to play it too.

Why should you care?

If you’re not interested in unusual sporting endeavours, this might all sound inconsequential to you. But stick with us – there’s a reason you should care.

The trajectory of very niche sports from total obscurity to mainstream chatter is symbolic of the way tech is changing our world.

Small ideas that capture people’s imaginations no longer remain small for long. They can be shared, developed, and strengthened via digital technology – through visual material, community discussion, and collective assets that turn an idea into a network (or a league). The most unexpected of inventions can go from complete obscurity to household knowledge in a matter of months or weeks. Days, even.

Tech is changing everything. So let’s make that change worthwhile.

Read our interview with Sean Garnier: Blending blockchain tech and freestyle football

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This week we’re also quoting…

Elliott Levine (Director Worldwide Education at Qualcomm)

What Levine said:

“We are creating a great divide amongst the world’s children – the connected and the unconnected.”

Connectivity to close the divide

While we’re talking about using tech to make worthwhile changes, we have to touch on connectivity – and how it has the potential to narrow the opportunity gap for young people if we can ensure that all communities have access. 

Levine works in wireless connectivity – so we thought we’d close this newsletter with a positivity boost. Wireless connectivity is giving more and more people access to digital opportunities that could change their lives. And by extension, that will change the world.

Wireless connectivity in numbers 

  • The global market for wireless connectivity tech is predicted to grow to USD $130.6 billion by 2026 (up from $65.2 billion in 2021), at a CAGR of 14.9% (source: BCC Research)
  • The economic impact of 5G is estimated to hit USD $227 billion by 2030 – and that’s in the manufacturing industry alone (source: Statista)
  • A 2023 study suggests that the GCC states of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE will have the highest 5G adoption rates (95%) in the world by 2030, creating huge socio-economic opportunities in the region (source: Statista)
  • But governments, tech companies, and activists around the world are working to ensure that other conventionally under-served regions are not left behind. Major research organisations and high-profit corporations are turning their attention to increasing connectivity for low-connectivity areas (sources: International Finance Corporation and White & Case)
  • From a business perspective, initiatives like Investment Monitor’s African e-Connectivity Index are important because they show investors that a poorly connected region can be an opportunity for profitability – and connectivity will have the biggest impact when it’s both accessible and profitable (source: Investment Monitor)

As an industry, tech has a responsibility to make sure that access and profitability grow at the same time. Because yes, tech is business – but it’s also a core element of how our societies will function in the future.

Connectivity has the potential to become another cause of division between the privileged and the under-privileged. But it also has the potential to level the field.

Read our interview with Elliott Levine: Can wireless connectivity combat learning loss?

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