Following the successful use of VAR technology in 2018, FIFA announced that it will deploy semi-automated offside technology at the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar. This technology is an evolution of the VAR systems. It will provide a support tool for the video match officials and the on-field officials to enable them to make faster, more accurate and more reproducible offside decisions.
The new technology will use 12 cameras mounted underneath the roof of the stadium to track the football, as well as collect up to 29 data points on each player on the field 50 times per second to calculate their exact position on the pitch. These 29 data points include the player’s limbs and extremities (e.g. knees) that are crucial for making offside decisions.
This year’s World Cup match ball “Al Rihla” also played a crucial role in the offside decision. It has an inertial measurement unit (IMU) sensor built into its center, which transmits ball data to the VAR team at a frequency of 500 times per second, allowing precise detection of the kick point, which provides a reference for the referee on the field.
By combining the limb- and ball-tracking data and applying artificial intelligence, the new technology will issue an automatic offside alert to the VAR referee team whenever the attacker is in an offside position. After the VAR referee team manually validate to confirm offside, the referee on the field will be notified. All processes are completed in seconds, which makes offside decisions faster and more precise.
After the judgment is completed, the system will generate a 3D animation of the offside from the collected information on the ball and the player’s limbs and project it on the giant screen of the stadium so that all spectators can understand the basis of the judgment. The current judgment images are only available on small computer screens on the sidelines and only to referees.
More tests will be conducted in the coming months to fine-tune the system before it is used for the World Cup at the end of the year. Let’s stay tuned and see how technology ensures the fairness of football games.