FIFA’s offside tech involves cameras that track 29 data points on each player and a ball with a sensor

Leonard Sengere Avatar

You know those jokes about nerds/geeks vs jocks. Movies made it seem like there is no place in the sports world for geeky talk. That’s not quite the case.

Today we talk about something that I know that you, dear sport hater, will love. There is some pretty cool tech that FIFA will be introducing this year. Yes, that same FIFA that’s responsible for those games you were raised on.

See, I dip my toes in both worlds and can confirm that some of my sport crazed friends couldn’t tell you what a Snapdragon is to save their lives. However, they still do appreciate watching their teams lose in Ultra HD.

A few beers and a lull in the action usually ends in someone marveling about how they are watching something happening thousands of kilometres away in real time. They love that.

What they have mixed feelings about is when tech enters the actual sports arena. Oh, they hate it. There have been a number of tech uses in football so far and only a few have been welcomed.

VAR

Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology is probably the most hated of all. This tech is simple, it is just introducing some other referee who reviews video to identify any clear and obvious errors made by the on-field referee.

In practice, it takes too long for the video reviews, there doesn’t seem to be consistency in the decisions made etc.

I think that’s all misplaced anger though. What irks people is the removal of the ‘gray zone.’ We were so used to some erroneous decisions being made in tight situations. They made for good conversation.

There is a famous incident of one football legend scoring in an important World Cup match using his hand. Which is not allowed. That goal is now lovingly called ‘the hand of God’ and we love talking about it because our English friends who were knocked out thanks to it hate it so much.

Had VAR been available then, we would not have The Hand of God. As much as the English hate it, I don’t think even they would wish for a world without it. VAR is depriving us of any other such moments.

Semi-automated offside tech

Sports fans are not going to love this. One of the main issues with VAR has been its use in deciding whether a person was offside or not. Aside from inconsistencies in decisions made, it just sucks having goals disallowed simply because a striker’s toe was offside.

FIFA has been trialing out some tech to aid referees in making faster and more accurate offside decisions. This semi-automated offside tech is apparently ready for primetime and will be used at the upcoming World Cup later this year.

I realise some of my techie friends here may not be familiar with what ‘offside’ means. One is offside if they are nearer to an opponent’s goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent.

So, with the previous system VAR used optical tracking to determine when the ball was kicked and where the player receiving it was.

That’s a fancy way of saying they just freeze-framed to determine when ball left foot and then drew lines to determine where receiving player was when that happened. They were limited to 50fps, what the video is captured at, when doing this.

The new system

The Adidas ball that will be used has a sensor in the middle which sends inertial data 500 times per second (500Hz). Giving a more accurate idea of where the ball is at any given time. This is much better than the 50fps video currently being used.

There will also be 12 dedicated cameras tracking that same ball as well as the players on the field. The cameras will track up to 29 data points on each of the 22 players on the field 50 times per second. All parts of the body of the body relevant to offside decisions are tracked. That’s a lot of data.

Source: FIFA

So this limb and ball tracking data is combined and artificial intelligence uses it to provide automated offside alerts. This happens in seconds and the referees only have to review the decision. Making for much faster and accurate decisions.

When reviewing the system’s decisions, referees will work with the calculated positional data points, not optical data like before. After they confirm that decision, the system generates a 3D animation that shows where players’ limbs where when the ball was played.

This video is then shown on big screens in the stadium and also on TVs across the world. That way everyone sees exactly what transpired.

Source: FIFA

What a system

We shall see how well the system works. There will be no room for technical challenges as it will be used on live games. Football fans have no patience for anything that stops the action for even a few seconds.

We are tired of celebrating goals, realising an offside check is underway, biting our nails for a while and then celebrating again when the goal is confirmed. The new system promises to cut that time but it better not malfunction, not even once.

FIFA says they have tried out the enhanced system in some tournaments and it has worked well. We shall be the judges of that at the biggest sporting event in world later this year.

So, my techie friend with no interest in sports, what do you think about this tech? You have to admit it’s impressive, not revolutionary, but still impressive.

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14 comments

  1. _____

    Still not as awesome as robots playing soccer, but it’s awesome.It does however take a bit of fun from football, let’s be honest we all enjoyed watching players hackle with the referee when they were not happy with the result and once in a while a fight broke out.

    1. Leonard Sengere

      Exactly. I feel the same. The contentious decisions are what gave football that extra something. Players still try to plead with referees but they just shush them and point to their headsets indicating that they are waiting for a video review. It’s not the same.

      1. Imi Vanhu Musadaro

        Really? Sports should be fair and free from manipulation. If Maradonas Hand of God had been disallowed, the course of history for some people would have drastically changed. I think because fans, have little to lose they don’t even consider the impact on the actual players careers.

        Gambling is also a multi-billion dollar industry, refs can easily be swayed to make “contentious decisions”. We honestly can’t keep them, just for the controversy.

        I think it’s like not having a dashcam, because you enjoy the banner with police. If there’s a better way of doing something, do it!

        1. Leonard Sengere

          Free and fair is good but we gotta have blurry edges. There has to be room for theatrics and creative bending of rules. Major incidents should be few and far between though.

          I concede though that I did not consider the players whose lives are affected by such bad calls. That’s terrible but football is for the fans. We may have nothing to lose but bragging rights, but we also fund the whole thing with our DStv/Showmax subs etc. It’s just a show in the end, it’s entertainment.

          This reminds me of the WNBA and how their players refuse to entertain lowering of the rim. They find it offensive to suggest tweaking some regulations for them. Problem is, their game lacks the spectacle that fans crave, dunks, ferocious dunks. So, by catering to players, the WNBA is mid for fans and the fanbase is tiny as a result. Let’s give the fans what they want.

          The issue of dirty refs sucks. There’s no defending that and without this tech, I agree, the door is slightly open for those shenanigans. It’s rare though and I can live with it for those other benefits.

          The dashcam analogy is good. Only gripe with it is that I would be player in that scenario. I wouldn’t want the bants with cops. If I were to observe the whole thing as a third party, I would be more entertained if there was no dashcam. Terrible for the driver but a good show for me the viewer.

          It’s not always that we choose the better way of doing something. We could say filming at 60fps is objectively better than at 24fps and so we should do that. Alas, the film industry still mostly chooses 24fps because there’s a certain feel that 24fps has that 60 does not.

          1. Imi Vanhu Musadaro

            Theatrics doesn’t require breaking or bending the rules, they are absolutely independent. Players should play the sport, some players tend to be offside (a lot) or rolling on the ground when an opponents shoe-lace grazes their leg. It’s not theatrics, it’s cheating. Plain and simple.

            The sport came before fans “funded” the sport. Even if no fans are watching, the league will still be played, the Olympics will still be hosted. Monetisation was a side effect, not the driving intent.

            People were used to supporting men’s sport and hid behind female sport being “less entertaining”, hence WNBA is always the cited example. Even in e-sports where gender doesn’t matter, women still don’t get the same support. It’s a psychological bias reinforced by money/sponsorship following where the viewers are.

            60fps would be no better, because it would make no difference to the viewer. But, the move to 30 fps has been made because 24 fps though sufficient, 30fps was BETTER. It’s only for cinemas where you’d find 24fps still being standard, simply because the projectors are expensive to replace. But, movies themselves are now being shot at more than 24fps.

  2. Rr

    Tech like this shouldn’t being put on a mega event like the world cup for first time use, thats just wrong… if it turns out it has an error,it will ruin the whole tournament… Why not try it first in small leagues and see how people receive to it… Not just back stage trials where they just figured it worked..

    1. Leonard Sengere

      I agree. It should have been tried out in Ligue 1 or something. We should all have seen it work already rather than seeing it for the first time at the biggest sporting event.

  3. José

    Cricket is the one sport who got it right when it comes to technology eventhough they do make mistakes sometimes.

    1. Leonard Sengere

      You’re right there. Tech has really become a part of cricket and somehow it feels natural. Even tennis’ implementation is smooth.

  4. The Empress

    It’s progress but….
    It’s supposed to be “the beautiful game” not the exact science.

  5. Tkt

    Dear Leonard
    My comment is not on this subject but rather a kind request for you to do us a small favor
    When NETONE purpoted a system upgrade it turned out to be a system DOWN-GRADE as it stopped a lot of things that where there
    1 I can’t check SMS balance which was possible b4 the purpoted upgrade
    2 I can’t send a pliz call me which you would b4 their upgrade
    3 whenever one recharged their account they would get free SMSes now that’s impossible

    When question is : How do I send a pliz call me and how do i check my SMS balances?

    Can you find out that for us???

  6. Wait

    The technology has been trialled and developed over more than 10 years. It’s there to reward the sportsmanship, not gimmicks and cutting corners. Sport should about celebrating skills and sportsmanship and Machiavellism has no place in sports.

    1. Wait

      Since the technology can be created, it would have been put in place by those aggrieved by bad match officials and over time the battle between those for and those against has to be settled. Just like advanced photography has been incorporated in match officiating in American football to avoid limits of human perception and avoid human errors. Those in favour of technology have won. If there are disgruntled people out there they are free to set up a off-shot soccer organization and see who will care for their alternative. No one is nay-sayers from going their own wa.

      1. Tkt

        Well, what I see here is the total abandonment of match officials in favor of tech. Its really said but I see teams just jumping in the stadium and start playing wing a referee inside the ball and the ball itself whistling for fouls and so forth

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