The International Football Federation (FIFA) has officially announced that semi-automatic VAR technology for offside detection will be used in the final part of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. It has already been tested at two fairly serious tournaments – last year’s Club World Championship and the Cup of Arab Nations. In connection with the positive feedback, FIFA decided to use the new technology at the world’s main football tournament – the World Cup, the next draw of which will take place at the end of the year in Qatar.
We’ll talk about what semi-automatic offside detection technology is, how it works and whether it will ever be possible to fully automate the process of fixing an offside position in football – we’ll talk right now.
Semi-automatic offside detection technology – what is it?
“Semi-automatic offside detection technology has been specifically developed to assist VAR assistant referees. During the final part of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the video room will automatically receive an offside notification, as well as an automatically selected pass point and an automatically drawn offside line. All this will be available in just a few seconds after the situation on the field.
“After that, the VAR assistant referees will have to confirm the system’s proposed point for the transfer, as well as the proposed offside line. The assistants in a special video room will inform the chief referee of the match in the field about the final decision,” said FIFA Director for Football Technology and Innovation Johannes Holzmüller.
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Pierluigi Collina, head of the FIFA refereeing corps, also gave full support to the introduction of the novelty, who believes that all technological innovations in football should be aimed at speeding up processes so as not to tire the spectators and not get on the nerves of fans, players and coaches.
“In terms of accuracy, this is an important detail, because when you can be more accurate, it’s good. Speaking from the point of view of time, this aspect, I think, lies more in the psychological plane. We felt that something needed to change, so we wanted to come up with a system that gives a faster answer to a key question. We understand that football is different from a number of other team sports, and it is important to make decisions quickly here, so in recent years we have worked hard in this direction,” said Collina.
While few experts have managed to evaluate the manufacturability and practicality of the semi-automatic offside detection system, however, former English Premier League referee Dermot Gallagher believes that the novelty will be an important step in the development of football.
“I think when such major changes come, it will give a new impetus to the development of football,” Gallagher stated.
How does semi-automatic offside technology work?
Currently, at matches that are equipped with the required number of cameras and where the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system is used, only available cameras are used to make decisions about a player’s possible offside. With semi-automatic technology, cameras installed on the roof of the stadium will be used for this task. With their help, it will be possible to simultaneously track the positions of all 22 players in order to accurately calculate their position on the field at the right time. For each player, 29 data points will be monitored to cover all possible limb positions that directly affect offside determination.
In addition, the official Adidas Al Rihla ball will be used at the World Cup in Qatar, which will be equipped with a special sensor that sends data at a frequency of 500 times per second. This will allow you to accurately record the moment the ball touches to determine offside. It is expected that these technologies will increase the accuracy of fixing the offside position by at least ten times.
“12 special optical surveillance cameras will be installed at each stadium. All of them will work together and with 100% synchronization. In addition to this, an official ball with pluggable fixation technology will be used. In its center, an IMU (Inertial Unit of Measurement) sensor with a frequency of 500 Hz will be sewn in. All of this information will be transmitted through antennas around the perimeter of the stadium to the video room so that the system can accurately determine the offside position. We will get automatic detection of a very accurate ball touch point, which is especially important in near-boundary offside situations.”
“We will combine different sets of data using artificial intelligence, which will result in an automatic alert that will appear on the corresponding scale in the video room. This whole procedure happens instantly, within a couple of seconds. But, of course, in addition to that, there will be a manual check process by the match officials tomake sure that all the data is taken into account correctly and everything is in order,” Holzmüller explained.
The technology is designed to eliminate doubts about controversial offsides
After the introduction of the VAR system, its most zealous critics repeatedly spoke out about the fact that goals were often canceled due to “millimetric” or, as they are sometimes called in the expert community, “marginal” offsides. These are episodes when some point of the body of an attacking player (for example, part of the head, knee or foot), subject to the rules, is closer to the goal than one of the defenders, which was previously treated as offside on VAR and led to the cancellation of the ball, the indignation of the fans of one team and the joy of the other.
Now FIFA assures that the semi-automatic offside detection technology has the maximum accuracy of the technologically possible at the moment, because of which its verdict should not be in doubt.
“Our goal is to have a very precise technology, like goal-line technology, which is very praised by everyone. With the latter, we have achieved that if the ball crosses the goal line by a few millimeters, then this is treated as a goal. In professional football, everyone is happy and praises the goal-line technology. Something similar should be with semi-automatic offside detection technology. Fundamentally, I do not see any difference between confirming whether the ball crossed the goal line completely, and whether the player was in an offside position or not, ”Collina expressed his position.
Getty Images/Global Images Ukraine. Pierluigi Collina
“In the new technology, we use the same elements to create 3D animation because we want to give the fans the best possible angle. I think everyone agrees that we have the most accurate and unbiased decisions about offside positions. This is especially important, because earlier there were often disputes about whether the player was offside or not. The replay is intended to show the exact position of the players at the moment the ball is kicked, and the 3D animation will broadcast the necessary explanations in the form of graphics on giant screens in the stadium, as well as in the TV picture,” added Holzmüller.
How long will it take the arbitrators to make decisions?
FIFA expects that semi-automatic offside detection technology will help referees reduce the time to make key decisions by several times.
“I heard that the system will take a maximum of 4-5 seconds to determine offside. This will allow us to reduce the average time to make an offside decision from the current 70 seconds to 20-25. It will probably be even less when it comes to simple episodes. Of course, it will not be possible to ensure that any decision is made in 5 seconds. It is necessary to take into account the human factor and the need for verification. But in general, we are moving towards a situation where all decisions in football will be made more dynamically and they will become as accurate as possible. These are our goals,” says Collina.
Will it ever be possible to fully automate the process of determining offside position?
In connection with such advanced technologies, many in the football environment have a logical question – is it possible to hope for a fully automatic offside fixing process in the foreseeable future?
According to Pierluigi Collina, it is hardly worth talking about such a solution to the issue: “Goal-line technology clarifies simple truths, like “black” and “white”, since there is only a ball and a goal line. In this case, it was quite easy to find a fully automated solution. In a situation with the definition of offside, the decision is made after analyzing not only the physical position of the players on the field, but also the degree of their involvement in the game episode. Technology, of course, can give a categorical assessment, but the final decision should still remain in the hands of the judges. The involvement of the referees in the evaluation of the offside position will remain decisive and undeniable.”
The future of football arbitration belongs to robots?
Based on the above thesis, Collina also does not share the optimism of some experts about the possibility of a full-fledged replacement of human arbitrators with robots that will perform their duties strictly within the framework of programmable concepts.
“Sometimes we hear talk about referee robots and things like that. I understand that for media headlines this is a very interesting story, but not in our case. The referees we are used to will continue to be needed for matches and in the decision-making process, since they are the ones who are fully responsible for evaluating the episode, applying technological systems, etc., ”Collina summed up.