SAOT is not slow: how does the World Cup AI-assisted offside system work? | world cup 2022

What is SAT?

It may have a similar acronym to reality TV, but semi-automated offside technology, or SAOT, was designed to stifle drama rather than cause it. SAOT, an extension of VAR, was introduced to help reduce problems with one of the most contentious aspects of video assisted refereeing: how to decide if a player is offside in the build up to a goal. It will be in use in the World Cup in Qatar.

How does it work?

Bottom line: AI analyzes location data to map player positions when a ball is kicked. If the AI ​​determines that a player is offside, an alert is sent to the VAR showing the “kick point” of the ball and the offside line. After manually verifying that alert, the VAR officer informs the referee and any on-field decisions are modified accordingly.

A SAOT decision will be made at the World Cup using data sent from a sensor inside the ball, the adidas Al-Rihla, transmitting its location 500 times per second, along with that of 12 tracking cameras around the stadium that follow both the ball and 29 different points on a player’s body (the cameras transmit their information 50 times per second). The AI ​​will also create a 3D graphic showing the offside line and the position of the players in relation to it. That graphic will be generated after the decision is made and displayed to fans inside the stadium and on television.

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Why has it been introduced?

Law 11 of the football regulations It begins clearly enough: A player is offside, it says, if “any part of the head, body or feet is closer to the opponent’s goal line than the ball and the second-to-last opponent.” But there are caveats that should apply to that rule. For example: A player can only be offside in the opponent’s half of the field, and cannot be offside if an opponent had deliberately touched the ball last. These ratings are also subject to additional review. This season, the regulatory body, Ifab, was forced to clarify what “deliberate” meant, an explanation that stretched to 400 words.

Given its complexity, it is not surprising that the offside law has provided the greatest challenges for VAR. The basic configuration has an officer remotely assessing an incident by playing back video footage. Such limitations did not take long to manifest after the introduction of VAR in the Premier League. Video footage is often unable to capture the precise moment a ball is kicked, while offside lines were also determined manually. In the case of a high-stakes decision, where the difference between a goal or not is a matter of millimeters, such an approach instantly created the possibility of frustration. Perhaps most importantly, these decisions could take several minutes to make.

SAOT came with the promise that it would be more accurate and quicker, reducing decision times from an average of 70 seconds to 25. FIFA’s head of refereeing Pierluigi Collina described SAOT as “faster and more accurate” and ” offers better communication to fans”.

Video of an assistant referee in action during the last World Cup in Russia
Video of an assistant referee in action during the last World Cup in Russia. Generally speaking, VAR worked well during the tournament. Photograph: Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images

Where has it been tested?

SAOT made its Arab Cup debut in Qatar last year. It has also been retaken by Uefa for this season’s Champions League.

Have you passed the test?

While there is little controversy over the accuracy of decisions under SAOT, calls judging a player offside by margins that are not visible in the stadium or on the video screen remain controversial among managers and supporters. However, the main problem with SAOT remains the reason it was introduced in the first place: timing.

The Arab Cup went smoothly, but examples uncovered by ESPN journalist Dale Johnson found delays of more than a minute, and in one case more than two minutes, in scoring goals with possible offside incidents. This pattern has extended to the Champions League this season. Harry Kane had a Winning goal disallowed against Sporting Lisbon for the interpretation of a sub-clause of the offside law that took four minutes to make. There was also a long delay in Liverpool vs Napoli and controversy following a disallowed goal by Patrik Schick for Bayer Leverkusen against Club Brugge.

In the Kane example, it’s hard not to imagine that the delay wasn’t caused so much by technology as by the subsequent intervention of human beings whose job it was to apply the full offside law. Human fallibility and/or subjectivity, along with the complexity of the rules that have been written by humans (handball is not far behind in this regard), remains the biggest obstacle to VAR working efficiently. However, UEFA notes that offside decisions take on average 30 seconds less to complete in the Champions League than in this season’s Europa League, where basic VAR is still in place.

In previous FIFA tournaments, namely the 2018 Men’s World Cup and the 2019 Women’s World Cup, VAR managed to avoid the spotlight, perhaps because referees were allowed more discretion on the pitch, something that many fans would like to see more. consequently. If that is the case again in Qatar, hope could still be the advantage of the right decisions without the soul-sapping pain of delays.

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