When the Wall Street Journal dubbed Belarus the emerging ‘Silicon Valley’ of Eastern Europe three years ago, the small country with a population of 9.5 million, which was often overshadowed by its populous neighbouring states, knew it had to do something spectacular to live up to the hefty title.
In 2019, the perfect opportunity arose as the country’s capital city Minsk prepared to host the 2nd European Games where the best local technologies would be put on display for the continent – and the world – to see.
Belarus did not disappoint. From high-ranking international sports officials to athletes from 50 European states and journalists from around the world – the technological features of the year’s biggest multi-sport event got rave reviews across the board.
The Minsk-based IT company Synesis sport has been at the helm of the soft technologies that are used at the 2nd European Games. Founded in 2017 by its parent company Synesis, the sport-focused office has provided the bulk of the technological solutions of the Games from the regularly updated Games website and mobile application to the quirky chatbot with the official Games mascot Lesik and back-of-house mechanisms for making the biggest sports event in Belarusian history run smoothly.
European Olympic Committees president Janez Kocijancic applauded the various modern technologies used at Minsk 2019:
“The success of any multi-sport event is dependent on multiple factors working together seamlessly, including technology, which has played a critical role here at the 2nd European Games in Minsk. Technology plays a leading role in bringing sports closer to the fans, and all the latest innovations have been implemented here to make the sports presentation more attractive on multiple levels. From the website and mobile app delivering information to the public to the accreditation scanners and transport VAPP helping athletes, officials and others access venues, we have been very pleased with the technical side of Minsk 2019 and applaud the local organisers for a job well done.”
Staying in pace with the most advanced technology in the world, the Belarusian staff at Synesis sport has developed software platform that supported Games participants before they even arrived in Minsk.
Accreditation, registration of volunteers and workforce staff – thousands of profiles were kept at the organisers’ fingertips for easy processing thanks to the Games Management System called LOOM. A workload unthinkable even for a building full of workers was made quick and simple thanks to the automated database that put all Games participants on track to fulfill their roles once the anticipated multi-sport event kicked off.
Remarkably, Synesis sport only started to prepare its programs for the 2nd European Games one year ago when it signed the contract with the Minsk European Games Organising Committee (MEGOC).
Simon Clegg, executive director of the 2nd European Games, commented the Belarusian IT experts on the work done to equip the event with the latest technological tools:
“The Minsk 2019 Games Management System developed by leading Belarusian technology company Synesis sport has proved a highly effective tool in the overall management of the highly successful 2nd European Games. Developed with only a very short lead time, the robust integrated system has worked extremely well under stressful conditions and will, I’m sure, be of interest to future event organisers.”
By the time the Games participants started coming to Minsk, their accreditations were ready and their arrival time was tracked to help with transport to the city centre. The technological platforms were able to keep tabs even on the minute details, such as special arrangements for transporting the athletes’ sports equipment.
Technology accompanied and helped Games participants every step of the way throughout the 10-day event. Athlete information was sent off to draft entry lists, while the volunteers got a database where they could check their training times and work shifts.
The LOOM system includes even a special module for tracking incidents and speed up reactions to them. With Belarusian IT gurus running the show, organisers could keep their fingers on the pulse of every venue and issue.
The venue press manager for the Palova Arena and the Sports Palace Irena Zakurdaeva credited the Belarus-made technology for helping her run operations smoothly at her venues:
“Compared to other tournaments that I have worked at, I can say that technologies were used profusely in running various operations of the organising committee (in Minsk). The LOOM’s DRS (Daily Run Sheet) module and IMS bot helped me and my colleagues to solve problems quickly while organising the work of the press centre, as well as during the operations period.”
Spectators and sports fans from around the world got the full feel of the Games thanks to the official website and mobile applications.
Four-time Olympic champion Darya Domracheva, a star ambassador of the 2nd European Games, was among the many avid users of the mobile app during the Games:
“The mobile app Minsk2019 was my main app during the whole week of the Games. It helps to quickly find your way around competition events, schedules and tournament results. It is irreplaceable in planning your own schedule as a sports fan and an important tool for finding out about the medals won by your favorite team. The interface is simple to navigate helped to find information quickly, so I can confidently recommend the app to all true sports fans!”
Athletes used the website and mobile app to stay up-to-date on the results of their compatriots in other sports and venues, among them the women’s +80kg gold medallist in sambo Anastasiia Sapsai of Ukraine and France’s Brice Leverdez, who reached the men’s singles final in badminton.
Anastasiia Sapsai said: “Our competitions went on for the whole day so, unfortunately, we did not have a chance to watch the performances of other members of the national team. This is where the mobile app Minsk2019 saved us. Sitting in the tribunes of the Sports Palace and supporting our colleagues from the team we were constantly keeping an eye on what was happening in the other sports, how many and which medals we got there. We found out everything right away. That was just excellent.”
Brice Leverdez said: "The style of the website is really nice. It looks really good. The colours are bright, the setup is very clear so you can quickly see where to go if you want something. That's what you want from an official website, during competition, not to lose time, and that's what you have."
Foreign editors and journalists who used the website to post content for the official Games News Service were also left impressed with the advance of Belarusian-made technology and commended the back end of the website for its easy use.
Wayne Hickson, the editor-in-chief of the Minsk 2019 Games News Service, who has worked in press operations or News Services since the 2000 Olympic Games, has been using the system for two weeks:
“These Games are unique in one very important communications sense. Everyone from the volunteers to the most senior Games officials have embraced the various technologies they need to do their jobs properly. I don't think I've seen a Games workforce so tuned into the technologies they are using from the venue access points to the centre of the fields of play. And everyone who has ever worked on or reported on a major multi-sport event knows that technology is a real make-or-break factor. Here it is excellent.”
David Cox, a sport writer with the Games News Service and a contributor to The New York Times, The Guardian and Eurosport, is also leaving the Games with newfound awe of the Belarusian IT sector:
"Ahead of the Games, I had heard a lot about Belarus' prowess in technological developments with all the smart city innovations and of course the development of Viber. The Games did not disappoint. I think these are potentially the most technologically savvy Games I've covered so far. The website is brilliant, easy to use and the interactive schedule and results page was integral to my work at the Games. I could not have done my job without being able to regularly check on the live scores from the news service office, and check schedules, profiles, and a whole array of stats at a few clicks of a button. Lesik the chatbot was a particularly fascinating innovation, and it was great having access to it both on my phone and laptop. As I was covering stories across multiple locations throughout the Games, I used the mobile version on a regular basis to work out how to get to different venues."