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Football: towards computer-assisted refereeing

From November 30, Fifa takes advantage of the Arab Cup in Qatar to test the semi-automated offside arbitration. About ten cameras are dedicated to player movements, and an application decides whether or not the player is offside when his teammate passes. A technology that could be generalized to all championships.

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Every weekend is a source of controversy and injustice on all football fields in the world. The offside rule , already complex moreover, has become more and more complicated to arbitrate, and now everything is played down to the nearest centimeter! And since there are big sporting issues, but also economic ones behind each decision, Fifa and the various international federations use the latest technologies to limit errors as much as possible.

Certainly , video arbitrage has become widespread for several years, but it still does not prevent errors of appreciation since it is the human eye , behind its screens which determines if there is offside or not, and which transmits the information to the referees on the field.

A life-size test one year from the World Cup

To try to find the best possible solution, the Fifa will test a semi-automated system , designed in particular with engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) but also from the universities of Melbourne and Zurich. The full-scale test takes place from today during the Arab Cup, which takes place in Qatar. A competition that was not chosen by chance since it is a real rehearsal before the 2022 World Cup which will take place in a year, at the same period, in the same stadiums.

a referee showing a yellow card

This technology is based on 10 to 12 cameras placed under the The different types of roofs
There are a number of different roofs, which shapes roof of the stadium, and it has already been tested in Europe on the side of Germany, Spain and England. These cameras follow 29 data points per player, and 50 times per second. They allow to crisscross the field, and to detect in real time the departure of the ball in relation to the positions of the attackers. A 3D grid since the regulations stipulate that ” a player is in an offside position if any part of the his head, trunk or legs are in the opponent’s half of the field (not including the center line) and closer to the opponent’s goal line than the ball and the penultimate opponent ”.

Data transmitted almost in real time

Previously, we were content to look at the feet of the player, and now we must take into account his head or his chest, and the human eye is no longer sufficient to best appreciate the attacker’s position. In fact, the cameras are used to draw lines on the pitch, one for the attacker as the balloon leaves, and the others represent the defenders. It’s a bit the same principle as for a photo finish in a athletics event .

According to Fifa , the data collected is transmitted almost in real time to the video arbitration assistance cell (VAR). There, there is now a referee specially dedicated to offside who, in a few seconds, will give his opinion to the referee of the match. The latter will decide whether the player who is flagged offside was part of the action or not.

” Technology is very important and useful both in pre-match preparation and in the decision-making process during matches”, explains Pierluigi Collina, refereeing legend, now responsible for refereeing at Fifa. “ In an offside situation, the decision is made after analyzing not only the position of the players but also their involvement in the movement. Technology – today or tomorrow – may draw a line but the evaluation of a Wave Phenomenon due to interference with the game or with an opponent remains in the hands of the referee.”

Which means that unlike the Goal-Line Technology , used to determine if a ball has crossed the goal line , it is the referee who will still have the last word. It remains to be seen whether the two referees will still be useful in the years to come …

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