Tuesday 09 July 2019, 10:04

Dreams realised in France for US hackathon winner

  • Hai Tan Le provided winning ‘prototype track’ in FIFA’s hackathon

  • Virtual competition sought ways to integrate voice assistants with football

  • American’s reward was watching USA win fourth #FIFAWWC title in Lyon

For Hai Tan Le, the chance to combine football and technology was simply too enticing.

As a software engineer, the latter represents his profession and area of expertise. The former, as a lifelong football fan, is his passion.

The opportunity to blend both came when Tan read about FIFA’s ‘hackathon’, a virtual competition seeking innovative ways to integrate voice assistants with football events and data.

“I found out from a soccer mailing list I’m on,” explained Tan, who hails from Charlotte, USA. “When FIFA and ‘Give voice to football’ came up, it caught my attention right away.

“I work in the healthcare space, dealing with big web applications, but I’ve always loved soccer. So when I saw the chance to combine soccer and technology, I jumped at it.”

Hai Tan Le, provider of winning ‘prototype track’ in FIFAs’ hackathon.

The brief - ‘Give voice to football’ – was simple. But in seeking to bring football content to users of the likes of Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and the Google Assistant, Tan did face one significant challenge.

“Working with a voice device was something I’d actually never done before,” he explained. “But I was really intrigued to work with FIFA’s data, so I saw it as a great opportunity. I hacked away for a couple of weeks and eventually came up with a prototype.”

That prototype, entitled ‘Women’s World Cup update’, was an Alexa Skill that provided a daily rundown of the programme at France 2019. As well as comprehensive details on upcoming matches, it also provided historical insights, with information and ‘on this day’ events from previous Women’s World Cups.

“The aim was first and foremost to build something I enjoyed and felt like, as a user of voice assistants myself, I would use,” said Tan. “So once I saw it working on my phone, I was already like, ‘This is awesome’.

“To actually win the competition for ‘best prototype’ was just phenomenal because it was great to think that other people must also think highly of what I’d done.”

Hackathon and #myFIFAWWCshirt winners Hai Tan Le and Yana Kyparisis meet Sarai Bareman, FIFA’s Chief Women's Football Officer, Luis Vicente, FIFA’s Chief Digital Transformation & Innovation Officer and Australia legend Tim Cahill.

Better was to come, too, as the prize for his excellent idea was two tickets to the FIFA Women’s World Cup Final. For Tan, that meant travelling to France and being congratulated in person by Sarai Bareman, FIFA’s Chief Women's Football Officer, Luis Vicente, FIFA’s Chief Digital Transformation & Innovation Officer and Australia legend Tim Cahill. That meeting was captured in the image above, with the software engineer joined by Yana Kypsarisis, winner of FIFA's #myFIFAWWCShirt contest.

The crowning moment, though, came when he and a friend watched his home nation make history by winning a record-extending fourth global crown - all in front a packed stadium and a passionate US support.

“The funny thing about coming out here is that I flew on the night of the England semi-final,” he said. “When I was boarding it was half-time and the US were 2-1 up, but then I didn’t have an internet connection for the rest of the flight, so I was literally shaking by the time we landed. Because I wanted so much to see my home team in the Final.

"The Final itself was just an amazing experience. I enjoyed seeing the passion of both teams being displayed and it was an important game for women's soccer, showcased for the whole world. The game was competitive and exciting and, of course, I was so happy to see the USA win!"