ReVARlution! New technology with instant imagery could be a game-changer for offside calls


ReVARlution! New technology with instant imagery could make offside calls ‘semi-automated’ – and help prevent avoidable situations like Rui Patricio’s serious head injury

  • FIFA is set to release a report on promising trials with limb-tracking technology
  • The potential game-changer would replace VAR-drawn lines and reduce delays 
  • Premier League officials are happy for the technology to be rubber-stamped
  • The head injury suffered by Rui Patricio on Monday reignited the offside debate 

FIFA are set to release a report on their trials of game-changing limb-tracking technology which would instantly identify offsides, replacing VAR-drawn lines and reducing delays in decisions.

The world governing body trialled their ‘semi-automated offside’ system at last month’s Club World Cup in Qatar. Findings are due to be revealed in the coming days, with FIFA hopeful that they are developing a ‘supportive tool similar to goal-line technology’.

Sportsmail has spoken to Premier League officials who are keen for the technology to be signed off, with assistants feeling they are unfairly criticised for the delay in raising their flags.

The limb-tracking tech would allow referees to know if a player was offside almost immediately

The limb-tracking tech would allow referees to know if a player was offside almost immediately

HOW DOES IT WORK? 

How does it work?

Artificial intelligence tracks the players’ movements and identifies the exact moment a pass is made. The lines — as seen in the top picture above, an example from FIFA’s website — are accurately placed on top of the video instantaneously.

The VAR can then, within seconds, relay the offside to the assistant, who would raise his flag. The technology is so sophisticated that it can spot the tip of a striker’s foot in real-time.

What would change?

Assistants would no longer have to wait for a passage of play to end before flagging for offside, and fans could celebrate goals knowing their scorer was onside.

Would ‘offside’ flash up on a big screen at the stadium?

No. FIFA want the final decision to remain with the officials. This technology would merely offer them more information than they have now. A major problem with offsides, research has found, is how VAR operators can pick different body parts when drawing their lines. This system automatically locates the furthest forward body part with which a goal can be scored.

When might we see this in the Premier League?

FIFA intended for the system to be rolled out completely by 2022 — in time for the World Cup in Qatar — but Covid-19 has caused a delay in trials.

The findings from the latest tests of the technology at last month’s 2020 Club World Cup in Qatar will be revealed in the coming days and should tell us more.

It is unlikely that the technology will be introduced into the Premier League before 2023.  

The head injury suffered by Wolves goalkeeper Rui Patricio on Monday reignited the debate over officials being told to wait until a passage of play has ended before flagging offside.

FIFA’s ‘semi-automated offside’ technology — which was revealed by Sportsmail in 2019 and involves limb-tracking, automatic ball detection and creating a model of a player’s skeleton — would stop the need for these delayed flags.

If available in the Premier League, for example, the idea is that Stockley Park would be provided with an instant image displaying the offside line. The VAR would then alert the assistant and referee within seconds if an active player was offside.

Assistants would no longer have to wait to raise their flags, and supporters could celebrate goals without the fear of an offside being spotted.

Was Rui Patricio's injury avoidable? Liverpool's Mo Salah was offside but the flag stayed down

Was Rui Patricio’s injury avoidable? Liverpool’s Mo Salah was offside but the flag stayed down

The Wolves goalkeeper was stretchered off after suffering an injury following the Salah offside

The Wolves goalkeeper was stretchered off after suffering an injury following the Salah offside

FIFA’s Working Group for Innovation Excellence are developing this as part of a project they call ‘VAR technology 2.0’. Their goal is to establish ways of improving video technology by 2022.

It is understood that ChyronHego’s Tracab team in Sweden are leading trials of the semi-automated offside system. Hawk-Eye — the company who provide goal-line technology — have also been involved.

Ian Wray, ChyronHego’s global sports director for Tracab, has been quoted as saying: ‘The aim of our technology is to support referees in making offside decisions accurately, confidently and quickly, removing interruptions in the flow of the game and improving the overall fan experience.’

One challenge FIFA are encountering with offside calls is how to accurately determine the moment the pass was struck.

They are also considering the best way to present this new information both to supporters inside stadiums and those watching at home.

MARK CLATTENBURG

The prospect of introducing semi-automated offside technology is an intriguing one.

To officiate a Premier League match is high pressure. One mistake and you’re a target on social media and in the news. So referees, assistants and VARs will take any help they can get. This technology would provide a layer of protection. 

You might be able to argue with where, say, Mike Dean draws his offside lines from that booth at Stockley Park. But it’s hard to argue with tried-and-tested algorithms that say Player A was further forward than Player B. Nobody argues with goal-line technology when that says a goal is a goal.

What happened to Wolves goalkeeper Rui Patricio on Monday prompted criticism of assistants keeping their flags down until passages of play are complete. In that instance, the assistant was right to wait.  

This wasn’t one of those ‘daylight’ scenarios where the assistant should have shown more conviction in his decision-making. This was tight. 

Mo Salah was running through as Conor Coady was trying to hold his line, so he was right to keep his flag down. This technology would remove that scenario and debate — and I’m sure assistants would welcome that news! 

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