FIFA is building on the video assistant referee (VAR) technology that's playing an increasingly important role in soccer. At this year's edition of the Arab Cup, which starts on Tuesday, the organisation will test tech designed to help officials assess whether players are offside, marking the most important trial of the system to date.
The offside rule is supposed to prevent players from lingering too close to the opponent's goal. In a nutshell, if an attacking team plays the ball forward when a teammate is ahead of both the ball and the second-to-last defender (including the goalkeeper), that's a foul. In the 2020-21 English Premier League season, 32 goals were ruled out for offside after VAR review.
Semi-automated offside technology explained ahead of FIFA Arab Cup. Pierluigi Collina and Johannes Holzmüller explain the advancement of the tests to date. This technology will be tested at the FIFA Arab Cup 2021™ #FIFArabCup #FootballTechnology
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The semi-automated offside system collects up to 29 data points 50 times per second for each player, according to the BBC. Between 10 and 12 cameras will be installed under the roof of each stadium. The system will use limb-tracking data to calculate the offside line at the moment the ball is played (i.e. the "kick point"). If it detects an offside offence, it will alert a replay operator, who can review the incident almost in real-time.
“The replay operator then has the opportunity to show it immediately to the VAR,” Johannes Holzmüller, FIFA's football technology and innovation director, said. “At the FIFA Arab Cup, the Assistant VAR, at a dedicated offside station, can immediately validate and confirm the information.” The VAR can then tell the match referee about the decision.
The system could catch offside fouls faster than the current VAR setup, helping games to flow more smoothly. All going well, the tech could be used at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The system has been trialed in England, Spain and Germany. There were plans to test it more broadly last year, but the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted those.
“Technology is very important and useful in both the pre-match preparation and the decision-making process during matches,” FIFA's chief refereeing officer Pierluigi Collina said. “In an offside incident, the decision is made after having analysed not only the players’ position but also, their involvement in the move. Technology – today or tomorrow – can draw a line but the assessment of an interference with play or with an opponent remains in the referee’s hands.”