FIFA OKs sensor ball and semi-automatic offside tracking for the 2022 World Cup

The new technology uses a series of 12 cameras that track positions of both the ball and players.

Matthew Childs / reuters

FIFA World Cup 2022 will feature an updated VAR (video assistant referee) system known as semi-automated offside technology, the international soccer governing body announced today. SAOT will replace the old (and still controversial) VAR system that FIFA first debuted at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The new system features 12 stadium cameras that will track the positioning of both the ball and each individual player, including 29 different data points on each player’s limbs and extremities. On top of that, a ball outfitted with a motion sensor will be used in each match, which will deliver live data on a player’s position at the time it's kicked.

FIFA believes that SOAT will help match officials make faster and more accurate decisions on offside calls. “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 FIFA Referees Committee Chairman Pierluigi Collina in a statement.

According to ESPN, the new system should cut the average time it takes to make a VAR offside decision from 70 seconds to 25 seconds. The old VAR system required manually drawing offside lines and calculating the kick point. FIFA officials claim that SOAT will automatically select both the offside line and kick point in seconds, using both data from the ball and limb-tracking data from the cameras. Human officials will then manually confirm each decision. After each decision is reached, a 3D animation will be displayed to spectators that visualizes the offside decision.

While it may seem risky to debut a completely new virtual referee system at a global event like the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, a more basic version of SOAT went through trial runs at last year’s Arab Cup in Qatar and this year’s FIFA Club World Cup. You can watch a demonstration of SOAT here.

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