FIFA to use AI to detect offside at World Cup

AI applied to sport is now invited into the most prestigious of competitions.

It’s official: after talking about it for more than a year, FIFA has recently formalized the arrival of an AI-based technology that will help referees in their decision-making on the question of off -Game.

After a first experience with during the 2018 World Cup in Russia, President Gianni Infantino reaffirmed his ambition to modernize refereeing using technological tools.

Like VAR, it will be a semi-autonomous technology that will work all the time. The refereeing body may have recourse to it at any time to help it in its decision-making process.

A ball full of sensors and an AI that monitors players

The first part of the system hides in the ball itself. It will be full of sensors that record its position 500 times per second. In parallel, a set of cameras will be interested in the players. An AI-based system will analyze these images to track 29 points on each player’s body in real time.

Based on this data, the system will be able to generate an automatic alert that will land directly at the HQ of the refereeing corps. Some operators will be responsible for validating or not the machine’s interpretation, then relaying the information to the main referee. In any case, it is the latter who will make the final decision.

According to FIFA, this process will take a few seconds at most. Based on the tests already carried out during the 2021 Club World Cup, the institution believes that this will allow referees to intervene more quickly, more precisely and with better consistency.

This data will also make it possible to generate 3D animations in real time. The idea is to help the referee justify a decision with serious consequences by presenting objective elements to the public.

Why do we need machines to referee the offside?

This sometimes somewhat obscure rule for the uninitiated is a fundamental element of modern football; it prevents attackers from camping behind the opposing defense line to recover a ball catapulted by a teammate from the other end of the field. This forces the players to cooperate, and once close to the goal, the attacker must inevitably recover the ball in front of the last defenders. He must then improvise to get rid of it with a well-measured pass or by showing off his technical qualities.

But if the introduction of this rule has made the game much more pleasant to watch, it has also become a source of permanent hassle for the referees. The risk of offside occurs especially in tense situations where the action takes place at high speed, in small spaces moreover.

The official ball will be full of sensors to detect offside. © FIFA

A fraction of a second or a small centimeter can make the difference. Even for a perfectly positioned referee, these sequences of play can therefore be extremely difficult to judge objectively.

And that’s a problem, because the offside rule often relates to actions that can directly lead to a goal. And, as fans know all too well, it can affect the outcome of the match; the history of this sport is full of outstanding examples.

This adds enormous psychological pressure on the referee in an already tricky situation to manage. If he wrongly abstains or whistles an imaginary offside, he risks depriving a team of a well-deserved chance; the perfect recipe for losing the confidence of players and attracting the wrath of an entire stadium.

To help them in this oh so thankless task, FIFA ended up adopting VAR (Video Assistant Referee, for Video Assistance to Arbitration). It is a technology that allows assistant referees to intervene in certain disputed refereeing situations. The referee can also view the sequence several times in a row from different angles to ensure that the correct verdict is rendered.

On paper, this is a huge advantage for the integrity of the game. But in practice, the public is still very divided. For example, it is indisputable that this can affect the fluidity of the game, with check sequences that sometimes drag on. And his detractors oppose him still a whole heap of other arguments for the majority comprehensible.

But in the end, FIFA seems to have decided definitively in favor of these technologies. After all, this new AI-based system is just a high-tech extension of VAR. It is therefore to be expected that they will take up more and more space in the world of football.

Leave a Comment