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Referees to use semi-automated offside tech at 2022 World Cup

Referees to use semi-automated offside tech at 2022 World Cup
Al Rihla, the Adidas match ball for the men's 2022 World Cup, will include a centralized sensor to help referees determine offside calls. Photo courtesy of FIFA

July 1 (UPI) -- Referees at the men's 2022 World Cup will use semi-automated technology, which includes hundreds of sensors and cameras to aid in offside decisions at the major soccer competition in Qatar, FIFA announced Friday.

The World Cup will run Nov. 21 to Dec. 18. FIFA, the international governing body for soccer, said in a news release that the "support tool" will help officials make more accurate, faster and "more reproducible" offside decisions.

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FIFA also said the semi-automated offside technology, or SAOT, is an evolution of video assistant referee known at VAR.

The latter technology involves a designated official who views slow-motion replays with a virtual line on the field to determine if offensive players are behind defenders too early.

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It was used at the men's 2018 World Cup and the women's 2019 World Cup, and continues as a tool for other major competitions around the world.

"At the FIFA World Cup in 2018, FIFA took the brave step to use VAR technology on the world's biggest stage, and it has proven to be an indisputable success," FIFA president Gianni Infantino said in the release.

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"Semi-automated offside technology is an evolution of the VAR systems that have been implemented across the world."

FIFA worked with Adidas to create a match ball for the new technology. The ball will feature a centralized sensor, which will send data out at 500 hertz per second. That data will allow officials to detect the precise moment a ball is kicked.

Each stadium will feature a dozen cameras mounted inside the roof to track the ball and 29 points on the body of each player in a respective game, to determine exact positions on the field. Those 29 body positions include all limbs and extremities monitored for offside calls.

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That data will be processed by artificial intelligence, which will trigger alerts to a video room. The conclusion from that data will then be sent to the on-field official's headset.

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A replay animation from the decision also will be provided for fans in the stadium and on TV.

"We expect that semi-automated offside technology can take us a step further," FIFA referee committee chairman Pierluigi Collina said. "We are aware that sometimes the process to check a possible offside takes too long, especially when the offside incident is very tight.

"This is where semi-automated offside technology comes in -- to offer faster and more accurate decisions."

Test data for the new technology was analyzed by the sports lab at the MIT Sports Lab and validated at Melbourne, Australia's, Victoria University. A team at ETH Zurich, a research university in Switzerland, also analyzed the technology.

The 32 qualified World Cup teams will be presented with additional details about the technology Monday and Tuesday at a team workshop in Doha, Qatar.

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