New AI-powered technology will be used on the Qatar World Cuphas confirmed FIFA, claiming it will halve the time it takes to make VAR offside decisions.
Semi-automatic offside technology (SAOT) provides a complete overhaul of the system used to assess ‘positional’ offside decisions leading up to a goal. While a referee and their assistant will still have conversations on the field and the referee will have the final say on SAOT decisions, the controversial practice of rewinding TV footage will be a thing of the past.
“Semi-automated offside technology is faster, more accurate and provides better communication with fans,” said Pierluigi Collina, FIFA Referee Committee Chair. “It can create a new form of visualization for supporters at home and in the ground. All tests have worked well and so [SAOT] goes to Qatar World Cup 2022†
During the World Cup, offside assessments are performed by creating a 3D map of the goal-scoring action, using a combination of 12 cameras and a hi-tech ball. The Adidas Al Rihla ball will be equipped with a sensor that will transmit location data 500 times per second, which will be compared to the player’s position on the camera, with synchronized devices that will track 29 points on players’ bodies and 50 times per second pass on information.
That data will be processed using AI technology developed in conjunction with a number of universities, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After it is sent to a SAOT operator, it is double checked by a VAR. The VAR then passes the verdict to the referee, who makes the final decision, but in theory only approves the decision. Collina said that in trials, compared to the previous VAR system, the time it took to make a decision had fallen to 25 seconds from an average of 70 seconds.
Collina said the primary goal of the new system was to achieve more accurate decision-making. Speeding up decision times, he said, was of more “psychological” importance to fans. Criticism of VAR’s offside decisions has centered on accuracy and speed – with cameras currently judging players and ball position as too inaccurate.
“The goal is to have very accurate technology, comparable to goal-line technology,” Collina said. “Target line technology used to measure up to 3cm distances; now it is millimeter and the technology is praised. Everyone is praising the technology and it should be the same for [SAOT]†
He added: “We [also] wanted to offer something that gave a faster response. Accuracy is important, time is more psychological. When I look at other sporting experiences the time [taken by technology to come to decisions] is lived in a normal way by coaches and spectators. In NBA you see players drinking, spectators enjoying themselves, nobody cares about the time. We know football is different [however] and that time is important.”
Once a decision has been made, a 3D representation of the offside incident will be shown on television and screens in the World Cup stadiums. Collina said the image would be easier for the viewer to interpret than previous TV images with lines across them, but it would take an additional 25 seconds to generate the images.