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FIFA Might Introduce a New Way to Determine Offside Starting from Qatar World Cup


In a regional qualifier for the 2023 Women’s World Cup and 2024 Olympics, the United States marked a two-time defending champion against Haiti by 3-0 in the opening match of the CONCACAF W tournament. The US landed a 2-0 halftime lead on goals in the 16th and 23rd minute, giving a go for the team to advance for next year’s global playoff for three final Women's World Cup spots.

With the help of technology, FIFA plans to give much faster and more accurate results by equipping its grounds with semi-automated offside technology (SAOT). This technology will not only support tools for the video match but also assist on-field officials or referees in making precise decisions.

Since offside and disallowed goals have been the center of controversy for referee’s decisions in the club and international football, eventually pressuring the game’s governing bodies. Despite the disputation, Video Assistant Referees (VAR) are brewing efforts to change that through the new semi-offside automated technology. First, it’s important to note how this latest VAR evolution will make a difference.

How it Works
VAR could only use broadcast television cameras to make an offside decision. With SAOT, cameras will be mounted right under the roof of the stadium, providing insights by optimally tracking the players while recording data points on the player’s body 50 times per second, calculating their exact position on the pitch. Cameras will focus their eyes on every move or position the player makes.

To accurately assess the point of impact, a sensor will be placed for each Al Rihla Official World Cup match ball, sending data to the video operation room at 500 times speed per second. Together with the data points from the video cameras, as well as information collected from the select point of impact of the in-ball sensor, it helps in faster decision making by instantly providing team officials with a view of the offside scenario.

"Technology, today or tomorrow, can draw a line but the assessment of interfering with play, or with an opponent, remains in referees' hands. The involvement of the referees in the assessment of offside remains crucial and final."

"In terms of accuracy, it is important because when you are more accurate it's good," added Pierluigi Collina, the chairman of the FIFA referees' committee. "In terms of time, I think it's more psychological. We felt something was needed, and that's why we wanted to offer something giving a quicker answer. We are aware that football is different [from other sports] and making a decision faster was important, and that's why we worked in this direction."

But why wasn’t goal-line technology considered if it’s about high accuracy?

Why Not Goal Line Technology?
According to Collina, the goal is to have exceptionally accurate technology, similar to the high-level accuracy offered by goal-line technology. Goal-line technology is praised for accuracy. If the ball did or didn’t cross the goal line by very few millimeters and is proved by the technology, it makes everyone happy.

However, in the case of semi-automated offside technology, there is proof when a player is offside or onside in a very accurate manner. Hence, Collina believes this technology should be considered as well.

"Goal-line technology clarifies black-and-white decisions as there is only the ball and the line, and for this reason, it was quite easy to find a fully automated solution," Collina said last year in a separate interview. "In an offside incident, the decision is taken after analyzing not only the players' position but also their involvement in the play.

Collina says, "I don't see any difference between certifying that a goal was scored or not, or certifying that a player was in an onside or offside position."

For one, Collina trusts that FIFA has developed a system that is as accurate as goal-line technology and asks fans to trust the same.

Will fans trust this technology? Especially considering that supporters view the ball crossing the line as a binary decision and offside isn’t. On top of that, visualization lingers as an element that the technology needs to work on. This bores doubt on how to determine whether a player is offside or not.

How is the Player Offside or Onside?
Since fans will find it difficult to visualize offside decisions, they will be able to effectively move in tandem with the assistant referee. This is possible by a 3D animation which will be shown at the stadium, as well as on television. It won’t be when a decision is made; instead, it will be at the next stoppage in the game, and the referee no sooner signals the decision.

Moreover, the exact point of the attacker, when deemed offside, will not only be focused on but will be followed by a simulation moving in line with the players.

"We use the same elements to generate a 3D animation because we want to provide the best possible perspective to the football fans. "I think we all agree, especially for tight offside decisions, sometimes, it's quite difficult to say if a player was offside or not, " Johannes Holzmuller, FIFA's director of football technology and innovation, added.

In the words of Holzmuller, the replay will show the exact position of the players at the same moment the ball was played. This will be animated in 3D, projected on the stadium's big screens, and telecasted on television.

This then leads to the time this process takes.

How Much Time Will it Take?
Normally, VAR offside decisions across all competitions globally take around 70 seconds. But with new technology, that time will just be 25 seconds.

Although 25 seconds may appear longer than those who had attended briefings through the trial process, the technology does promise that the majority of decisions will be displayed during a goal celebration while limiting time for players and fans standing around and waiting for the outcome.

There will be times, nevertheless, when a judgment contains subjective components. Is a player obstructing the game? Has the defender ‘deliberately played’ the ball in any way? Is an attacker in the goalkeeper's field of vision? These selections will require more time, as will others with many offside factors.

Over the previous year, there had been much discussion about decisions being made in a couple of seconds. Although SAOT can resolve this swiftly, the delayed offside flag still exists since it takes the VAR some time to authenticate rulings.

When will SAOT be Deployed for Other Tournaments?
The World Cup will be the first big competition where it appears, as FIFA developed it. That implies it won't start until the 2023–24 season at the earliest, which means the Premier League and other domestic tournaments would have to wait. Despite this, UEFA could be able to deploy it in the knockout stages of European tournaments like the Champions League the next year.

One problem is that an additional VAR operator (not a referee or assistant) will be needed to oversee the procedure, which will cost more money for leagues to pay for along with the additional cameras.

"Technology, today or tomorrow, can draw a line but the assessment of interfering with play, or with an opponent, remains in referees' hands. The involvement of the referees in the assessment of offside remains crucial and final."

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