What Is Semi-Automated Offside Technology?
In a FIFA World Cup already filled with controversy, from a questionable World Cup bid to the ban on alcohol sales in stadiums, this mega football tournament has everyone talking. While many are focused on how a country smaller than Connecticut could host a sporting event of this size, those who watched the opening match may wonder, what is semi-automated offside technology?
New Technology at The FIFA World Cup
In the opening minutes of the first match where Qatar hosted Ecuador, veteran striker Enner Valencia put away what appeared to be the first goal of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and what would have been the fastest goal scored in the opening match of the men’s World Cup tournament. After a lengthy review by the officials, the goal was disallowed due to being ruled offside in part by new semi-automated offside technology. While the offsides rule has long been a part of the game, many fans questioned the technology that could detect a player’s offside position within centimeters.
How Does Semi-Automated Offside Technology Work?
According to FIFA, “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 article further explains, “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 teammate.
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.”
The Introduction of Technology at The FIFA World Cup
Unlike many sports around the globe that have been relying on video replays for a decade to make a final determination on the field, the use of video technology is relatively new to the game of soccer. This is only the second time in the men’s tournament history that video review is being utilized.
In the 2018 tournament hosted by Russia, the Video Assistant Referee (“V.A.R.” – pronounced by its letters instead of one word) was introduced to review crucial plays. In moments where a penalty kick could be awarded, or a player scored from an offsides position, the VAR, with assistance from 2-3 assistant VARs is “responsible for determining whether, in his opinion, a “clear and obvious error” has been made by the on-field officials after reviewing the video footage and providing a recommendation to the main center official to review their decision whether at the video monitor near pitchside or in some cases the referee can accept the VAR’s verbal recommendation.”
Which Plays Are Eligible for Video Review?
According to the International Football Association Board, the organization that determines the Laws of the Game, the VAR can only intervene if they identify a “clear and obvious error” or “serious missed incident” on plays involving four game-changing decisions:
- Goals. Did a team commit a foul before scoring? Should a player have been called for offside prior to scoring? Did the ball go out of bounds before it entered the net? Any infraction in the buildup to a goal is fair game for a review.
- Penalties. Did a referee miss a foul in the box and fail to award a penalty kick? Was a referee duped by a dive into giving a penalty that shouldn’t have been called? Was a foul called just outside the box actually committed in the box, or vice versa? If a call resulted in a penalty — or should have resulted in a penalty — it can be reviewed.
- Red cards. Did a referee fail to see a red card-worthy foul or see the incident and err in only giving a yellow card? Was a referee too quick to hand out a red card when a yellow card (or nothing) would’ve been appropriate? If a play resulted in a straight red card or should’ve, the referee can initiate a review. (Red cards given for a second yellow cannot trigger a review.)
- Mistaken identity. Did the referee intend to give a card to one player but mistakenly give it to someone else? This fairly uncommon occurrence also can prompt a review.
Many longtime fans of the sport, have debated whether this new technology is disruptive to the flow of the game. However, in recent years video review technology has been adopted by major soccer leagues worldwide and has proven to be a crucial and literally game-changing part of the sport. The inclusion of semi-automated offside technology will, no doubt, be up for debate in the 2022 FIFA World Cup, but will certainly be a step forward in removing human error from crucial on-field decisions by officials.