A number of major sports events or organisations are currently “scoping out” the viability of installing thermal screening technology at their venues, following the recent launch of a venture designed to aid the return of live sport to stadia and arenas globally.

Working alongside AMCO, a company that specialises in artificial intelligence (AI) camera technology, a collective of UK agencies led by Threepipe Reply last week started a drive to deliver COVID-19 thermal screening at sports and events.

Using a system similar to security screening, special cameras linked to AI software can detect high temperatures in individual event goers, helping to identify those with potential COVID-19 symptoms. The collective claims that by offering a bespoke screening solution, rights holders are able to include this in scenario planning for when the lockdown ends and introduce measures to safeguard attendees at live events.

Alistair Gammell, associate partner of Threepipe Reply, told TheStadiumBusiness.com: “Sport is just one part of the conversation AMCO is having. For us it’s more about trying to find a practical solution for a number of sports.

“Not wanting to talk down the industry, but there’s no shortage of blog posts and webinars on what could and might happen. What occurred to me is this is something that sport governing bodies and events could factor into proper planning.

“Since we publicised the venture last week, it was in the Daily Telegraph on Saturday and subsequently we’ve been sent WHO (World Health Organization) guidelines for what sports events need to adhere to going forward. Included in that is thermal screening, albeit for the event participants, but there is no reason why that shouldn’t be extended to customers as well.”

Alongside sports activation agency rEvolution and staff engagement agency, MoonShot, the project is being led by creative agency Earnie, and its parent company Threepipe. All agencies are providing their time and resources pro bono with AMCO offering the COVID-19 event screening equipment at cost.

Threepipe’s client portfolio includes the likes of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB); Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), the owner of Lord’s; sports and hospitality company Keith Prowse; and the ATP Media division of the Association of Tennis Professionals.

“We’re not seeking to monetise this, and we’re certainly not trying to take this as a product that’s ours,” Gammell said. “We’re just trying to promote it and in doing so we’ve hooked in another couple of agencies we work with already – rEvolution, who we work with on ITF (International Tennis Federation) and Rolex; and MoonShot, who work with the ICC (International Cricket Council) and NFL (National Football League).

“It’s nice to get a couple of friends from the business in that three voices are better than one. It’s all about connecting up sport with the AMCO guys.”

Gammell said Threepipe has already had “six or seven” inquiries which they’ve passed on to AMCO, adding there are four or five major events/sports bodies who are now “scoping it out, looking at the cost element, the feasibility and the timeframes”.

The venture also has an international focus, with Gammell stating an American Major League Soccer (MLS) club has been in contact, and horse racing is being looked upon as an ideal candidate for the thermal screening tech.

Gammell said: “We’ve been talking to one particular sport, which has been massively hit by it (COVID-19), and all they’re trying to do is map out scenarios. If the government says we can do this, how can we produce sports events that can do that? They’re trying to work with the government guidelines and provide a solution. It’s not the overall solution, there’ll be handwashing stations and other social distancing solutions, but it’s part of making things easier when sport comes back.

He continued: “The sport is horse racing. They’re affected in the sense that clearly their big race days are not taking punters in, but for the majority of racing it’s the TV broadcasts they need to worry about. So if they could get quarantined racing back up, screening jockeys, trainers and stable staff etc, then effectively they could create a self-fulfilling eventuality for the sport, in the short term obviously.

“If we can demonstrate that people are fit and healthy before they enter a racecourse or stadium, then clearly there’s a peace of mind for everyone. That’s part of the battle, because when sport resumes people will question whether they want to go and sit with 25,000 other people. Where’s the risk and peace of mind for me as a customer?”

AMCO has worked to adapt the technology in its security cameras to conduct thermal screening and has already been engaged to aid the fight against COVID-19 in China. Thermal AI technology was deployed at Shanghai Hongqiao airport. Over one week, 1.2 million people were scanned, 101 of whom were flagged up as having abnormal temperatures with 60 sent to hospital for treatment.

The tech works by using thermal imaging cameras matched with the latest AI to accurately identify, within 0.3 degrees, human body temperature and create alerts based on abnormal temperature detection. With the ability to measure the temperatures of up to 30 people at a time, the thermal cameras are being viewed as a strong option for large-scale events and sports venues.

Explaining how the system would work for a sports stadium/arena, Gammell said: “There’s two types. One is a standalone static camera which you walk up to, it takes your temperature and you have the results in five to 10 seconds. That we haven’t really been recommending for sports simply because you’re hoping you can get a large number of people through.

“Instead, you’d have two cameras which you walk between as a line of sight. One is a thermal imaging camera which takes your temperature and alongside another piece of tech works out if you have a temperature. The other camera is facial recognition.

“Should you be flagged as having symptoms, security or operations staff would be alerted and you would then be checked again to ensure there is no abnormality with the first reading. If you fail a second time then clearly the venue has the right to refuse entry and ask you to seek medical advice.

“It’s supposed to very much fit around the security arrangements that currently exist, and be as less intrusive and alarmist as possible. Should sport decide to put this in place then clearly it will need to be communicated to people attending events. These cameras can be integrated into existing camera technology, but they need to be close enough to allow a temperature to be taken.”

As stadia, arenas and sports organisations across the world currently weigh up the best strategy to return to action amid the pandemic, Gammell admits that thermal screening is not a catch-all solution. Indeed, a number of challenges would need to be addressed before implementation.

He said: “One of the major concerns for sport at the moment is taking medical attention from key workers so it definitely won’t be as straightforward as simply plugging it in. Different events will have to think about how they do it.

“The challenges are getting the technology in place. It has to be in a covered or indoor environment, a tent of some sort or an indoor walkway or tunnel. There are also operational issues in terms of making staff aware of the best ways to deal with people, as well as training them to use the equipment.”

Regarding use in the UK specifically, Gammell added: “It’s all going to come down to how the government eases the lockdown. It will be important for them to be aware of this as well. We’re trying to raise the awareness of this at a policy level.”