Fixing soccer with computational thinking

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of football fans complaining about the lack of accessibility in FIFA. For those fans watching in black and white, I guess the guy kicking the ball is one of the players.

You might think that this is a fixable problem, and it certainly would be if UEFA asked a Computer Scientist. Apparently there are 76 teams in the UEFA Champions League (I cheated and asked Wikipedia). Each team wears a “home” kit and an “away” kit (I guessed that one). So, how many ways are there of choosing 2 teams from 76, counting “home” and “away” matches as distinct choices? A bit of A-level maths tells me that this is P(76, 2) or 5700.

5700 is a lot of unique games that might be chosen. Of course, I have simplified this, I haven’t looked into things like group matches, or different rounds in the tournament, so the possible number of different games in the season will be a little different. However, the point is that if you had to design kits for all those teams so that no matter which team played which a colour-blind fan could tell them apart, you’d be designing for a very long time indeed.

Is all that design really necessary though? Or is there maybe some other way to think about the problem that might make it a little easier? In Computer Science this problem is very similar to something we call hashing. When we hash some data we want to store it so that similar data is kept together and cannot be easily confused with other data. A simple example would be voting slips. If we have three political parties, Left WingRight Wing, and Raving we want to put all the ballot papers into three buckets, one for each party (we can ignore the spoiled papers). We don’t care to differentiate between ballot papers, since every vote is equal, we just need to put each one into the right bucket so we can count them. The only important criteria for organising our data is that the Left Wing votes shouldn’t get muddled up with the Right Wing or the Raving votes.

Placing the votes into buckets is simple and makes intuitive sense. Is there a neat way to organise the football shirts like this? Can we find a simple hashing function that will work for team kits? Here is a really simple suggestion: every team has a home kit with some configuration of block colours and emblems. Every team also has an away kit which is striped. It doesn’t matter what the colours are or what writing or graphics is on each shirt. It doesn’t matter whether the stripes are vertical or horizontal or what thickness or colour they are – each team can be easily differentiated by fans, whether colour blind or not.

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