A bit of airborne controversy erupted near Toronto Tuesday amid claims local “spies” had flown a drone over the Honduras national soccer team’s training session ahead of its World Cup qualifier against Canada.
“Sophisticated, high-range drone” looked off-the-shelf
Honduras coach Fabián Coito halted the practice after an uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV) was spotted hovering high above the pitch. That sparked fears that proxy spies for home team Canada had deployed the drone to gather intelligence on their rivals – and thus gain an unfair advantage – for Thursday’s World Cup soccer qualifier. Coito pulled the squad until his staff was sure the craft had buzzed off, but the episode did not end there.
Honduran paper Diez noted somewhat darkly that a “sophisticated, high-range drone flew over Honduras’ training,” making the craft sound like something that had strayed off-course from duty in Afghanistan ready to blast someone. Reporter Carlos Ordóñez added in a Twitter post that “spies are being reported,” and stressed the team’s “unease over what is obviously an act of espionage around the preparation work prior to the game Thursday.”
Canada’s skipper, John Herdman, played the cloak-and-dagger allegation down, saying it was more likely the result of a drone-owning soccer fan wanting an exclusive peek at a top squad
“I imagine that there’s probably a lot of people in Canada that fly drones,” said Herdman. “And when a big team like Honduras turn up, I’m sure people are probably interested in what they’re doing when they come into our country.”
Still, Herdman did not ridicule the notion of the craft being deployed to spy on opponents.
“We won’t be heading into people’s countries too early because… with drones these days people can obviously capture footage,” he admitted. “You’ve got to be really careful.”
Drones increasingly used in soccer – including as spies
Indeed, UAV are not a rarity in top-flight soccer – with Honduras, ironically, often quite close to the suspicious buzzing.
In 2014, French coaches demanded an investigation into a craft that hovered over the team’s World Cup training camp in Brazil – its gaze fixed steadily on its next opponent, Honduras. In 2017, Honduras recycled that claim, charging Australia with aerial spying ahead of their looming World Cup qualifier. Last June, meanwhile, Chilean staff members took out a drone they accused arch-rival Argentina of flying to spy on a pre-match workout, crashing it with a craft of their own.
The vehicles are also increasingly used in pro play. In 2018, German club Werder Bremen admitted to deploying drones as spies to shoot video of rival soccer club Hoffenheim’s training sessions. In decidedly a less underhanded way, AS Roma coach José Mourihno said in July he’d joined peers on other teams using UAV to film workouts for instruction purposes.
And to wrap up this drones-in-soccer round-up, Wednesday night’s kickoff in the Austria-Moldova World Cup qualifier was delayed nearly a half hour when the referee spotted a drone flying in the stadium above the pitch, and pulled everyone off. The match finally began, according to reports, when the pilot was identified and – along with his drone – shown a yellow card for his actions.
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