The most talked about technology of this year’s World Cup is ‘Semi Automated Offside Technology’ – ‘SAOT’ for short. With the help of this, the position of the players is being determined more accurately. As a result, the referee is able to make a more accurate decision about whether a player is onside or offside when attacking with the ball.
However, the use of new technology is not the first time in this World Cup. FIFA used two new technologies in the last two World Cups.
The 2014 World Cup was held in Brazil. Goal-line technology was used for the first time in the tournament. With the help of this, it is possible to decide more definitely whether the ball has entered the goal post or not. In most cases, it is clear whether a goal has been scored, but many times the ball hits the goal post and goes out. Many times the ball is caught by the goalkeeper after entering the boundary of the goal line. Goal-line technology made referees’ jobs easier in times of such uncertainty.
Then in the 2018 World Cup, ‘Video Assistant Referee’ or ‘VAR’ was used. With the help of this, the referees got the benefit of watching the video review while making a decision at any uncertain moment.
According to the FIFA president, the ‘semi-automated offside technology’ is basically an improved version of the ‘VAR’ technology.
Importance Of Offside Determination
Offside is one of the most uncertain refereeing decisions in football. And the supporters of both parties also got involved in the debate. Also many goals are disallowed due to offside. As a result, an offside decision can change the outcome of any match or tournament.
For example, in the 2014 World Cup, Bosnia and Herzegovina were knocked out of the group stage due to a referee’s wrong decision regarding offside. Edin Dzeko’s first goal in Serbia’s Bosnia vs Nigeria match was ruled out for offside. But after analysis, it can be seen that there was no offside. As a result, Nigeria won the match 1-0.
Many such controversial decisions have been taken in every World Cup. This has repeatedly raised questions about how reliable the referees’ decisions are. Therefore, FIFA has used ‘semi-automated offside technology’ so that each game can be judged more impartially in an event like the World Cup.
How This Technology Works
The ‘semi-automated offside technology’ will work by combining several types of devices and technologies. These include specialized footballs, cameras, algorithms based on artificial intelligence, 3D projection, machine learning and sensors.
The name of this year’s World Cup football produced by Adidas is ‘Al-Rihla’. The Arabic word ‘Al-Rihla’ means travel or journey. A sensor is placed in the center of each ball. This sensor can send ball position data up to 500 times per second. With the help of this, it can be determined exactly where the ball has been kicked at any moment. Earlier conventional methods could detect the movement of the ball only 50 times per second through the camera.
In addition to the ball, data is collected from 29 data points on each player’s body. Through this, their exact position anywhere in the field can be determined 50 times per second. Each of the 29 data points on the player’s body is relevant to determining offside.
For this technology to work, 12 special tracking cameras are installed under the roof of each stadium. These cameras are not used for game broadcasting. Rather, these cameras are only for the ‘Semi Automated Offside Technology’ or ‘VAR’ technology to work. With the help of cameras, the position of 22 players on the field and the ball is determined at every moment.
The entire system works with the help of artificial intelligence and machine learning technology. During a match, the ball is automatically detected by the system when the ball hits the feet of an offside player. The automatically detected offsides are then checked by officials linked to the ‘VAR’ system. If the officials believe that offside has actually occurred, they discuss this with the referee.
There is also a separate screen at the side of the field so that the referee on the field can see the information coming from the system. The referee made the decision after seeing this screen. At the same time a 3D replay animation of the offside moment is created and shown on stadium screens and TV for spectators. This replay animation is created using information from sensors inside the ball and 29 data points on the players’ bodies.
Also as part of this system, an automatic signal is immediately sent to the linesman on the side of the field when offside occurs. As a signal, the red light flashes on the watch in their hand. This makes the work of referees as well as linesmen easier.
How preparations have been made to use this technology before the World Cup
Conventional offside decisions take an average of 70 to 80 seconds during international football matches. But with this technology it is possible to decide offside in just 25 seconds.
‘Semi-automated offside technology’ was tested for the first time at Manchester City’s home stadium ‘Etihad Stadium’. The data collected online and offline while piloting the technology in the game was analyzed and validated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sports Lab.
The technology to track players’ limbs has also been tested by researchers at the University of Victoria. And researchers at ETH Zurich University in Switzerland tested the tracking system through multiple cameras.
Earlier, this technology was used in the “FIFA Club World Cup” held in Abu Dhabi in February this year and the “Arab Cup” held in Qatar in December last year.
According to the FIFA president, their organization has been working with this technology for the past 3 years. However, before the World Cup, FIFA had planned to apply ‘semi-automated offside technology’ on a larger scale. The plan could not be implemented due to the corona virus epidemic.
How To Be Offside
The rules for detecting offside have undergone many changes over time. In 1863, the offside rule was first introduced in football matches. Basically, the purpose of offside is to give some advantage to the team against which the attack is being done at any moment in the game. Since its inception, the offside rule has undergone significant revisions in 1925, 1990, 2009 and most recently in 2015.
The offside rule is unclear to many spectators. Simply put, under the current rules, an attacking player must have the ball at his feet to get past a defender. That is, the defender must cross with the ball at his feet. Or when receiving the ball as a pass, the attacking player must be parallel to or behind the defender. Otherwise it will be considered offside.
But football is a game of speed. During the match, the players are running every moment. And the referee kept running with the ball to keep the rules and order of the game. It is often difficult for the referees to make an accurate offside decision.
With FIFA’s ‘semi-automated offside technology’, it is possible to make decisions on complex issues like offside without human error.