A decision on the use of semi-automated offsides at the Qatar World Cup is expected within the next two months as referees chief Pierluigi Collina defended the technology from criticism it is tantamount to “robot officiating.”
The technology aims to replicate the precision and speed of goal-line technology, cutting decision-making time to around 3-4 seconds with more detailed replays available for broadcasters and stadium screens within 25 seconds.
If successful, developers hope the system will be approved for use at the World Cup, which begins on Nov. 21.
Ex-referee Collina, now FIFA’s Chairman of the Referees Committee, said, however, that match officials will still have the final say on all key decision-making.
“I know that for headlines, you can say ‘robot offsides’ and it is easy, understandable for the public,” he said at a FIFA briefing on Wednesday.
“But this is not the case. Technology is simply a tool used by human beings. The messages are sent to the VAR, to the assistant VAR and they use the information from the technology and they make the final decision. They are responsible for the final decision.
“It’s still a tool, a tool used to increase accuracy and improve the time to make it more accurate and more reliable.
“If people can see clearly how the decision was made then they can trust the technology and the system.”
Players are tracked by between 10 and 12 cameras of 4K quality creating a skeletal image of each individual using 18 different tracking points. It is hoped by the start of the World Cup, the number of tracking points will increase to 29.
“What is offered by the system is already very accurate, moving from 18 to 29 is even more accurate and this is where we are trying to go,” Collina said.
Data is received 50 times per second — matching the frame rate of a typical broadcast camera — and a simultaneous virtual simulation of the match is created, allowing officials to look at multiple angles in real-time and generate virtual replays, which feature an ‘imaginary wall’ being drawn along the line of the last defender to show precisely which body parts of the attacker are offside.
Significantly, the ‘lines’ used by VAR which are drawn after a decision is reviewed would instead be produced automatically and almost instantly using the new technology.
In Qatar, FIFA plan to house all VAR and virtual technology officials at the International Broadcast Centre in Doha rather than on-site at each stadium.
“The system automatically activates every time the ball is touched by an attacker,” explained Collina. “VAR has been very successful but there are areas where we can improve, certainly in the areas of consistencies and using it in different countries and competitions.
“VAR is also not yet at the very top when it comes to speed. Being fast and being accurate do not always go together. It’s very important to be accurate, we have told our officials to take the time they need to come to the right decision.
“But we are aware that we need to reduce the time, especially when it comes to very tight incidents and decisions. Sometimes you have the goal celebration or a delay until the decision and that’s what we want to reduce.
“We are trying to achieve this result by offering this to everybody. What the innovation and technology division here is doing is not only for FIFA, it is for football.
“Everything we do here with new technology is targeted for football. It is not something private. We don’t sell it, we offer it to the football community.”