KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: A semi-automated system for assessing offside will be activated at the World Cup finals in Qatar in November and December.
The way had been opened up for world governing body FIFA when last month’s annual meeting of the law-making International Football Association Board gave the green light for further use of a data-based system to reduce – if not eliminate – the traditional angst of players, coaches and fans.
Pierluigi Collina, the Italian chair of the FIFA referees committee, said then: “We want to achieve accuracy, quicker decisions, also more accepted decisions. We have seen in matches where the semi-automated offside was implemented that these objectives were achieved.
“This uses the same process as goal-line technology which is well accepted by the football community. We are confident that the same reaction can be given to semi-automated offside.”
The system works with data gathered by 12 cameras noting data points on 29 data points on limbs of every player. This data is processed 50 times per second, can generate 2D and 3D imagery, and feeds into the established VAR system.
VAR officials must judge whether any player had passive or active status before informing the referee of the analysis. IFAB hopes this will both improve the accuracy of decisions and reduce the ‘dead time’ of a VAR offside check.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino is a proponent of technological assistance. He had been in his role for only two years when VAR was activated at the World Cup finals for the first time in Russia in 2018.
Infantino said: “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.
“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 World Cup in 2022 is the clearest possible evidence.”
FIFA has announced that semi-automated offside technology will be used at the FIFA World Cup 2022™ in Qatar starting on 21 November, offering a support tool for the video match officials and the on-field officials to help them make faster, more accurate and more reproducible offside decisions on the biggest stage of all.
Following the successful use of VAR technology at the 2018 FIFA World Cup™ in Russia, FIFA President Gianni Infantino declared in The Vision 2020-23 that FIFA would strive to harness the full potential of technology in football and further enhance VAR. In the ensuing three years, FIFA has indeed continued to be at the cutting edge of technology in the game.
By working with adidas and various partners, and especially with the Working Group for Innovation Excellence and technology providers, FIFA has spent the last few years further improving the VAR system, including the use of semi-automated offside technology.
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.
Al Rihla, adidas’ official match ball for Qatar 2022™, will provide a further vital element for the detection of tight offside incidents as an inertial measurement unit (IMU) sensor will be placed inside the ball. 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 perfectly details the position of the players’ limbs at the moment the ball was played. This 3D animation, which will always show the best possible perspectives for an offside situation, will then be shown on the giant screens in the stadium and will also be made available to FIFA’s broadcast partners to inform all spectators in the clearest possible way.
The workflow of semi-automated offside technology and the connected ball technology have been successfully trialled at numerous test events and live at FIFA tournaments, including the FIFA Arab Cup 2021™ and the FIFA Club World Cup 2021™.
During these matches, the new technology was able to support the video match officials by helping them to make more accurate and more reproducible offside decisions in a shorter period of time.
The data collected during online and offline tests has been analysed and validated by the MIT Sports Lab, with TRACK at Victoria University scientifically validating the limb-tracking technology. Further insights into the technological capabilities of such multi-camera tracking systems are being provided by a research team at ETH Zurich.
More tests will be conducted in the coming months to fine-tune the system before a global standard is implemented to ensure that the new technology can be used in the world of football.
All details on the semi-automated offside technology set-up and the connected ball technology will be presented to the teams that have qualified for the FIFA World Cup 2022 at the Team Workshop in Doha on 4 and 5 July and then shared with the public.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino:
“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.”
Pierluigi Collina, chairman of the FIFA Referees Committee:
“VAR has already had a very positive impact on football and we can see that the number of major mistakes has already been dramatically reduced. We expect that semi-automated offside technology can take us a step further. We are aware that sometimes the process to check a possible offside takes too long, especially when the offside incident is very tight. This is where semi-automated offside technology comes in – to offer faster and more accurate decisions.”
“The testing has been a major success and we are very confident that, in Qatar, we will have a very valuable support tool to help referees and assistant referees make the best and most correct decision on the field of play. I know that someone called it ‘robot offside’; it’s not. The referees and the assistant referees are still responsible for the decision on the field of play.”
Johannes Holzmüller, FIFA Director of Football Technology & Innovation:
“We will have the semi-automated offside set-up with 12 cameras and the official match ball with connected ball technology in all stadiums at the FIFA World Cup 2022. The new technology will provide the video match officials with real-time offside alerts using artificial intelligence. As the video match officials will be quality-controlling these outputs, we still refer to the system as ‘semi-automated offside’ as the video match officials have to validate the proposed decision and then inform the on-field referee. By using the exact same data to create a 3D animation for in-stadium fans and TV viewers, fans will receive a quick and accurate visualisation of the offside situation. This process was developed with input from FIFA’s Fan Experience Panel.”
Cup finals for the first time in Russia in 2018.