Qatar World Cup will use semi-automated offside technology, Fifa announces
Image credit: FIFA
Fifa has announced that semi-automated offside technology will be deployed at the World Cup in Qatar this winter.
The system will provide an automated offside alert to the on-field officials to help them make faster, more accurate and more consistent offside decisions.
Video assistant referee (VAR) technology was first introduced at the 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia and Fifa has spent the last few years improving the system.
The new technology uses 12 dedicated tracking cameras mounted underneath the roof of the stadium to track the ball and up to 29 data points of each individual player, 50 times per second, calculating their exact position on the pitch. The 29 collected data points include all limbs and extremities that are relevant for making offside calls.
The official match ball for the tournament, 'Al Rihila', will also provide further data as it includes an inertial measurement unit (IMU) sensor inside it. This sensor, positioned in the centre of the ball, sends ball data to the video operation room 500 times per second, allowing a very precise detection of the kick point.
By combining the limb and ball-tracking data and applying artificial intelligence, the new technology provides an automated offside alert to the video match officials inside the video operation room whenever the ball is received by an attacker who was in an offside position at the moment the ball was played by a team-mate.
Before informing the on-field referee, the video match officials validate the proposed decision by manually checking the automatically selected kick point and the automatically created offside line, which is based on the calculated positions of the players’ limbs.
This process happens within a few seconds and means that offside decisions can be made faster and more accurately.
After the decision has been confirmed by the video match officials and the referee on the pitch, the exact same positional data points that were used to make the decision are then generated into a 3D animation that details the position of the players’ limbs at the moment the ball was played.
This 3D animation, which will attempt to show the best possible perspectives for an offside situation, will then be displayed on the giant screens in the stadium.
More tests will be conducted in the coming months to fine-tune the system before a global standard is implemented.
Fifa president Gianni Infantino said: “At the Fifa World Cup in 2018, Fifa took the brave step to use VAR technology on the world’s biggest stage and it has proven to be an undisputable success.
“Semi-automated offside technology is an evolution of the VAR systems that have been implemented across the world. This technology is the culmination of three years of dedicated research and testing to provide the very best for the teams, players and fans who will be heading to Qatar later this year, and Fifa is proud of this work as we look forward to the world seeing the benefits of semi-automated offside technology at the Fifa World Cup 2022.
“Fifa is committed to harnessing technology to improve the game of football at all levels and the use of semi-automated offside technology at the Fifa World Cup in 2022 is the clearest possible evidence.”
Fifa's head of refereeing Pierluigi Collina, who was voted the world's best referee six seasons in a row from 1998 to 2003, said: "We are very positive. It is ready. I read about robot referees. I understand this is very good for headlines but it is not the case. The match officials are still involved in the decision-making process. The semi-automated technology only gives an answer when a player is in an offside position when they play the ball. The assessment of interfering with an opponent and seeing if a handball or foul was committed remains at the discretion of the referee.
"Our goal is to get referees taking decisions correctly on the field. If something wrong should happen, the referee may take advantage of the technology to get a better vision of what happened, but there will still be room for discussion."
Since it was introduced to the English Premier League for the 2019/20 season, VAR has proved somewhat controversial, with perceived inconsistencies and some extremely marginal decisions made - often dubbed "armpit offsides" and "big toe offsides" - infuriating players, managers and supporters alike as much as it delights the opposition when a ruling goes in their favour.
Following the live trials in the Arab Cup and Club World Cup tournaments, it remains to be seen how effective the new semi-automated implementation of VAR will be when it is deployed on the world's biggest football stage at the World Cup in December.
Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.