After the first test of semi-automated offside technology at the FIFA Club World Cup in December 2019 in Qatar, FIFA organised another demonstration of an advanced offside technology. Due to the current travel restrictions, FIFA invited the members of the Working Group for Innovation Excellence to an online video conference, which was the third showcase event on the road map to 2022/23.
After the successful implementation of the video assistant referee (VAR) system following its incorporation into the Laws of the Game in March 2018, FIFA is aiming to further improve VAR technology at all levels of the game. In particular the development of a semi-automated offside technology should provide the VAR with additional and more accurate information to assist the decision making process of the referee and to make the review process as efficient as possible.
On 22 June, FIFA organised a remote demonstration of advanced offside technology, hosted by one of the technology providers, for the Working Group for Innovation Excellence. One of several competing technology providers presented a semi-automated offside technology system to 50 participants from all over the world.
The group was given the opportunity to learn about the current development status of the technology and to ask detailed questions. The technology provider, which already utilises a FIFA certified virtual offside line (VOL) system, demonstrated several aspects of the development process and the involved technologies, with the goal being to deliver a semi-automated offside decision within the shortest possible delay, so referees on the pitch can quickly be assisted in relevant situations.
(Image Source: ChyronHego)
One of the main challenges in the development of an advanced offside technology is the accurate and automated detection of the kick-point. The technology provider informed the group about possible solutions like tracking data from sensor technology or video data from camera systems.
Furthermore, a system has to correctly identify which body part places a player onside or offside. Accuracy tests have shown that human operators tend to pick different body parts for offside lines. Strides have been made in that area as well, with the automated system presented learning to correctly model a player's skeleton. In the future, the developed algorithms of the system should be able to automatically identify which body part placed the player offside and by what distance.
"The goal is to develop a supportive tool similar to goal-line technology: Not designed to make the decision, but to provide evidence instantly to the referees", was the clear message of the meeting. FIFA and the International Football Association Board (IFAB) have always maintained that the final decision will remain with the referee, with technology being introduced to provide the officials with the best support available. Another major consideration for FIFA and the stakeholders is how to best present those situations to the fans inside the stadium and in front of the television.
“These events are a very good opportunity for the FIFA Working Group to better understand the complexity and the development status of new technologies and provide a platform to discuss new innovations in football directly with the industry," said FIFA Director of Football Technology & Innovation Johannes Holzmüller.
The next meeting of the FIFA Working Group is planned for beginning of July and more tests and demonstrations are scheduled for the second half of this year.