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Automated offside at World Cup 2022 can end 4-year VAR hell

OPINION: FIFA has announced this winter’s World Cup 2022 in Qatar will debut semi-automated offside decisions. If the tech works, it can help to end the VAR nightmare that began in Russia four years ago. Who knew the solution to VAR was more VAR?

To me, an unbridled goal celebration is one of the truly great joys of life. I often find myself questioning ‘where do people who don’t watch football get these moments?’ You know, those purest expressions of joy, where you lose control of your limbs and can’t control the sounds coming out of your mouth?

Sadly, even though my team is better than it has ever been, those celebrations don’t happen much these days. The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) has robbed me and many other football fans of that.

If there’s even a hint that a goal could be offside, I just don’t celebrate anymore, just in case. Back in the pre-VAR days, if there was any doubt, all you needed was a quick glance over at the linesman and if the flag was down, it was a green light. Limbs everywhere.

Since the introduction of VAR – with its lines of varying thickness, human-interpreted positioning, and the endless deliberation over whether the striker’s left armpit is ahead of the defender’s right knacker – you might as well not bother getting excited.

Even if the goal is confirmed, the moment’s gone. You can never get it back.

Let the tech takeover

You see, VAR was brought in as an example of how tech could be a helping hand, but it isn’t really making the decisions. That’s still in the hands of the human officials whose interpretation of the data is questionable. It isn’t always the tech’s fault, it’s the way it is being used by the faceless wonders in the VAR Command Centre.

It’s the lack of consistency and accountability from these officials that has infuriated football fans. Not the tech itself. No-one argues against the current goal-line technology, which these often incompetent human officials have nothing to do with.

Personally, I’d get rid of VAR completely. There are some benefits (like overturning of unjust red cards or penalties), but it thoroughly goes against the spirit of the way the sport is played. For me, if a player looks level, then he is level and not offside.

However, VAR it isn’t going anywhere and if the decisions are going to to be decided by such tight margins, I’d rather the tech take a larger hand.

That’ll start at the World Cup in Qatar this winter.

One of my biggest complaints about VAR currently is the tech evidence isn’t been conclusive enough to be 100% relied upon. In the case of offside, the frame rate of the cameras and resolution of the imagery isn’t high enough to accurately determine precisely when the ball has been played – the key determining factor for the offside rule – and where the receiving player’s toenail is at that precise time in relation to the last defender.

Now, thanks to the positioning of cameras around the stadium, the automated system will be able to automatically determine the positions of the key players at the precise moment the ball is played. These cameras, positioned around the perimeter of the stadium under the roof, can track 29 spots on each player, 50 times per second.

The other part of this equation is solved by the new Adidas match ball, equipped with a special sensor that can determine the precise kick point, to 1/500th of a second.

Adidas ball Fifa World Cup 2022

In theory, this data is processed by AI in real time, which means the decision can be made much faster. The video refs can pass the decision to the on-field officials within seconds. No more fiddling with lines for minutes on end.

Thankfully, it’ll also be possible to show the 3D animation created by the technology on screens within the stadium. Fans in attendance will no longer be in the dark, seething about a decision they’re unable to comprehend.

“During these [test] matches, the new technology was able to support the video match officials by helping them to make more accurate and more reproducible offside decisions in a shorter period of time,” FIFA says today. 

“Put your f*****g flag up!”

Every set of Premier League fans has conspiracy theories about where and why the VAR refs have ‘chosen to draw the lines’.

Putting it solely in the hands of much more accurate technology is a better solution and can end that sense of injustice many of us have felt since VAR arrived, during the last World Cup, followed by the Premier League in 2019/20.

If it’s offside, it’s offside, right? No arguments.

offside fifa 22

I’m also hoping the new sensor-equipped ball can be used to pick up on things like marginal handball calls too, as well as those incidents where it takes ages to see if an offside player actually got a touch on the ball before it hit the net. We’ll have to wait and see how sensitive the tech is to those fainter touches.

Look, I still don’t want VAR and would get rid of it in a heartbeat, especially when it comes to offside. However, in this case, the solution to the VAR nightmare might just be more VAR. 

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