Semi-automated offside technology is to be used for the first time at the FIFA World Cup 2022. The referee and linesmen will now be assisted by a huge number of cameras, and advanced tracking technology that can detect if even the slightest slither of an attacking player is in front of the last defender and therefore OFFSIDE.
As you can see from the short gif clip below, and the somewhat longer video at the bottom of this story, this new development of VAR (Video Assistant Referee) works in a very similar way to the existing tech, but now the footie AI detects offsides on its own, and alerts the video officials. Quite what the linesmen think about this, I don't know. They might as well just put their feet up, rather than running up and down with flags, looking like short-sighted idiots.
VAR hasn't been universally welcomed by soccer lovers, to put it mildly. However, much of the criticism has related to how and when the humans on the pitch choose to use it. With this development, a computer does the work for them. Could this be the beginning of the end for human linesmen, or even the man that fans lovingly call, 'the banker in the black'? We shall see…
FIFA says: '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.'
As you no doubt know, the arms and hands are excluded from calculating whether a player is offside.
It's not just the players being tracked, however. A sensor inside Adidas' official World Cup match ball also sends data to the video ops room 500 times per second, 'allowing a very precise detection of the kick point.'
AI constantly analyses all these data points, and sends an alert to the officials in the VAR room when an offside is detected. Hopefully this alert is 'OFFSIDE DETECTED! OFFSIDE DETECTED! HALT PLAY!' in a Dalek voice.
The video guys then make sure the computer hasn't messed up. This part of the process is where there is potential for things to get controversial, I suspect. However, FIFA says it will happen 'within a few seconds', so there will hopefully be no more of that agonising and deeply annoying waiting around for offside decisions to be called.
The video officials then notify the hapless buffoon on the pitch, via his earpiece. He then signals that he and his linesmen have yet again missed a blatant offside. After that, everyone gets to see the cool animation that the VAR system has generated, on the stadium's big screen and on the not-quite-so-big screen in your home or at the local sports bar.
This system has already been trialled at events including the FIFA Arab Cup and FIFA Club World Cup, so hopefully things will run smoothly. The goal is to then fine-tune the system even further, 'to ensure that the new technology can be used in the world of football.' Although according to FIFA, it already has, so I'm not sure what that's about.
Amiable, bulging-eyed slaphead super-ref Pierluigi Collina is now chairman of the FIFA Referees Committee. He reached for his pocket and pulled out this statement: “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.”
If Offside VAR is okay with Pierluigi, it's fine by us. GOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAL! Oh… Not a goal; VAR confirms it was offside.
- Further reading: a complete guide to the offside rule (from the FA)