Wimbledon Centre Court

Wimbledon fans allowed to take smartphones and tablets into Centre Court to watch World Cup Final

Image credit: Pixabay

Tennis fans watching the men’s singles final on Centre Court on Sunday will, for the first time in the Wimbledon tournament’s history, be formally allowed to use phones and tablets to simultaneously follow the football World Cup Final.

Richard Lewis, chief executive of the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC), made the announcement ahead of Sunday’s finals clash, reiterating the firm decision that the men’s singles final – being played at its traditional time of 2pm on Sunday, the last day of the tennis championships – would not be moved to avoid a clash with the World Cup Final.

Wimbledon has long maintained its strict policy on the use of personal devices by people in the crowd during games. In the Conditions of Entry to the Championships, point 19 concerns ‘Photography, filming, mobile telephones, tablets, communications devices and radios’, in which it says: “The use of photographic equipment, mobile telephones, computers, tablets or other electronic devices, communication devices, audio-visual equipment or radios must not inconvenience any other person in the Grounds or be used to capture, supply or transmit data for the purposes of betting or gambling (or assisting for these purposes). In particular, mobile telephones, computers, tablets or other electronic devices, communication devices, audio-visual equipment or radios must be SWITCHED OFF [sic] in and around the courts in play. Personal headphones must be used when listening to radios inside the Grounds.”

This year, with the England football team potentially in the World Cup Final if they win their semi-final match against Croatia on Wednesday, Lewis confirmed that these conditions would be relaxed as the matches go head-to-head and that electronic devices would be permitted, providing they do not cause disruption to other people in the audience or the players on Centre Court.

He acknowledged that people had already been using smartphones on Centre Court last Saturday, when England played Colombia in the quarter-finals of the World Cup, saying: “Our attitude is if people aren’t affecting other people’s enjoyment of the tennis, which they weren’t, because they’ve got it on silent or whatever, or they are listening with an earphone, or whatever, that’s fine.”

“For many years now we’ve had people using iPhones, or phones, mobile phones, tablets. We’ve installed public Wi-Fi, a very strong Wi-Fi signal. If you are not disturbing anybody and people aren’t being disturbed, which they weren’t this last Saturday and I’m sure they won’t be on Wednesday and hopefully the same thing will apply on Sunday, then it’s a different issue."

Lewis pointed out that this year’s official announcement is not a relaxation of the rules, which were primarily designed to address the issue of people making mobile phone calls, talking loudly or other behaviours which cause disruption to the tennis and spectators during a match.

While there is the potential for a clash between the two finals, the World Cup Final does not actually kick off until 4pm BST, with the men’s singles final starting two hours earlier. Lewis said he expects the Centre Court stands to be “packed” and that spectators could use “modern technology” to follow the football at the same time, in the event of any overlap.

Defending champion Roger Federer, who has his sights set on Sunday’s final, joked that it was the World Cup organisers who should be worried about the two sporting events overlapping.

At a post-match press conference, he said: “I’m more concerned the World Cup final will have issues because the Wimbledon final is going on. They’ll hear every point: ‘Wow, love-15, 15-30.’

“The players are going to look up in the crowd and not understand what’s going on at Wimbledon. Maybe you should ask the questions over in Russia, how they’re going to feel about Wimbledon being played at the same time.”

Technology has increasingly become a cornerstone of the Wimbledon Championships. With its official technology partner IBM, AELTC has been exploring new ways to bring the excitement of the tennis to as many people as possible, in as many ways. For the 150th anniversary in 2018, AELTC has introduced new AI technologies, leveraging new digital opportunities to offer fans worldwide unique data insights and engagement.

The new AI technologies include the Wimbledon Messenger, a social assistant utilising IBM’s Watson Assistant chatbot capability and delivered within Facebook Messenger; a new Wimbledon.com; enhanced AI-powered automated video highlights for Wimbledon fans; an AI highlights dashboard; a redesigned IBM SlamTracker, to provide alternative views to different types of fan; and a special Official Wimbledon Poster, featuring a mosaic of images spanning the years, created by IBM Watson after analysing over 300,000 archive photographs.

E&T looked in-depth at the technology preparations for last year’s Wimbledon Championships, as it began its preparations for the 150th anniversary.

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