FIFA to stay on the ball with AI tech for offside detection

6 Jul 2022

The Adidas Al Rihla official match ball fitted with a sensor. Image: FIFA

New technology is helping FIFA referees make offside decisions faster and more accurately. But there’s something in it for viewers too.

FIFA will use AI-powered, semi-automated offside technology to help referees make offside decisions quicker and more accurately at the World Cup 2022 tournament kicking off in Qatar this November.

Being offside is when a player receives the ball from a teammate at a time when there are less than two players from the defending team ahead of the receiving player. The situation normally results in a free kick for the other team, but can be hard to determine with accuracy by referees on the field.

Video assistant referee, or VAR, technology was previously used in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. However, this is the first time offsides will be determined by semi-automated VAR and, according to the Guardian, could reduce average decision time from 70 to 25 seconds.

The offside detection technology has been developed over the past few years by FIFA through its Working Group for Innovation Excellence in collaboration with Adidas and other partners.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino said that VAR technology “has proven to be an undisputable success” after being deployed in the previous World Cup, and that semi-automated offside technology “is an evolution of the VAR systems that have been implemented across the world”.

“This technology is the culmination of three years of dedicated research and testing to provide the very best for the teams, players and fans who will be heading to Qatar later this year, and FIFA is proud of this work,” he added.

“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.”

How does semi-automated offside tech work?

The new tech uses 12 dedicated tracking cameras mounted underneath the roof of the stadium. These will track the Adidas Al Rihla, the official match ball fitted with a sensor, and up to 29 data points of each individual player.

Data on the exact position of players on the field will be fed at a rate of 50 times per second. The 29 collected data points include all limbs and extremities that are relevant for making offside calls.

The sensor inside the Al Rihla ball also sends data to the video operation room 500 times per second, allowing for a precise detection of the kick point.

Once the data has been relayed to the experts, which happens in a matter of seconds, the video match officials make a final call – thus the term ‘semi-automated’ – and communicate it to the referee on the pitch who then declares whether it was an offside or not.

The technology then turns the action into a high-quality animation, replaying exactly what happened on the stadium screen. The animation is also shared with FIFA’s broadcast partners to show TV viewers in real time.

“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,” said Pierluigi Collina, chair of the FIFA referees committee.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic