FIFA has today (Friday) announced that semi-automated offside technology will be used at the 2022 World Cup, with Qatar’s eight stadia for the tournament to be equipped to cater for the venture.

World football’s governing body said the move will offer a support tool for the video match officials and the on-field officials to help them make “faster, more accurate and more reproducible” offside decisions.

FIFA initially utilised video assistant referee (VAR) technology at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and the organisation has since worked with various partners, the Working Group for Innovation Excellence and technology providers, to further improve the system, including the use of semi-automated offside technology.

The new technology will utilise 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. ‘Al Rihla’, adidas’ official match ball for Qatar 2022, will provide a further element for the detection of tight offside incidents as an inertial measurement unit (IMU) sensor will be placed inside the ball. This sensor, positioned in the centre of the ball, sends ball data to the video operation room 500 times per second, allowing a very precise detection of the kick point.

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 the ball was played by a team-mate.

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. FIFA said this process happens within a few seconds and means that offside decisions can be made faster and more accurately.

After the decision has been confirmed by the video match officials and the referee on the pitch, the exact same positional data points that were used to make the decision are then generated into a 3D animation that details the position of the players’ limbs at the moment the ball was played.

This 3D animation, which FIFA states will always show the best possible perspectives for an offside situation, will then be shown on the giant screens in the stadium and will also be made available to FIFA’s broadcast partners.

The introduction of semi-automated offside technology at Qatar 2022 comes after successful trials at the 2021 Arab Cup and 2021 Club World Cup, which were held in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, respectively.

FIFA said further tests will be conducted in the coming months to fine-tune the system before a global standard is implemented to ensure that the new technology can be used across the world of football.

FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, said: “At the FIFA World Cup in 2018, FIFA took the brave step to use VAR technology on the world’s biggest stage, and it has proven to be an undisputable success.

“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, 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.”

Johannes Holzmüller, FIFA’s director of football technology and innovation, added: “We will have the semi-automated offside set-up with 12 cameras and the official match ball with connected ball technology in all stadiums at the FIFA World Cup 2022.

“The new technology will provide the video match officials with real-time offside alerts using artificial intelligence. As the video match officials will be quality-controlling these outputs, we still refer to the system as ‘semi-automated offside’ as the video match officials have to validate the proposed decision and then inform the on-field referee.

“By using the exact same data to create a 3D animation for in-stadium fans and TV viewers, fans will receive a quick and accurate visualisation of the offside situation. This process was developed with input from FIFA’s Fan Experience Panel.”

Image: FIFA