In the opening match of the FIFA World Cup 2022 between host Qatar and Ecuador, when Enner Valencia gave the South American side the lead in the third minute of the game, it was ruled offside by the Video Assistant Referee (VAR). At first instance, it appeared that the referee had made a horrible mistake, as Valencia nowhere were offside. But once we got a glimpse of how VAR came to this conclusion, almost all of us were left dumbstruck. “No chance the referee would have seen that!” the commentator exclaimed.
According to FIFA, they have spent the last few years improving the VAR system and have come up with a semi-automated VAR. The new technology leverages AI and creates 3D models of the player’s position in real time and helps the referee see which part of the body is furthest forward and make the right call for offside. The biggest advantage of this AI-based technology is that it’s fast and does not disrupt the flow of the game, which has been one of the biggest complaints from the current VAR.
To help AI create the 3D model, around 10 to 12 cameras are installed inside the stadium underneath the roof. These cameras follow the players and track up to 29 data points at 50 times per second. The data generated is then processed in real-time to create the 3D models.
Another part of the technology is an official ball for the tournament, called Al Rihla, containing motion sensors inside, which report precise location data on the ball 500 times per second. Placing sensors inside the ball helps VAR make more precise decisions, according to Adidas, who have designed the ball.
“Al Rihla can provide a further vital element for the detection of tight offside incidents, as an inertial measurement unit (IMU) sensor is placed inside the ball. This sensor, positioned at the center of the ball, sends data to the video operation room 500 times per second, allowing a very precise detection of the kick point.”FIFA
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 when his teammate played the ball. 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.
“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.”Gianni Infantino, President, FIFA