Artificial intelligence will be used in Qatar to determine offside decisions
This year's World Cup may look a little bit different to those which came before it after FIFA revealed that it will make use of state-of-the-art offside technology throughout the event in Qatar.
More than four years after Video Assisted Refereeing (VAR) was rolled out at the World Cup in Russia, world football's governing body has continued its drive to modernize the game and will make use of Semi-Automated Offside Technology (SOAT) throughout the tournament later this year.
The technology relies upon 12 tracking cameras which will track various points on each player's body at a rate of 50 frames per second and, in conjunction with a sensor embedded in the match football, should lead to clearer - and crucially, faster - offside decisions at pivotal points in games.
The artificial intelligence system will be able to determine with near certainty if a player is offside at any given point during a match - with video officials also being used to input the exact moment the ball was kicked.
The data will then be calculated instantly and conveyed to the match referee. The video referee will also determine if a player who is flagged as being offside is 'interfering' with the current play.
The idea behind the new technology was to remove indecision from the football pitch, says legendary Italian referee Pierluigi Collina.
"We want to have accurate and faster decisions," said Collina, who is the chairman of the FIFA Referees Committee.
The large-scale implementation of SOAT comes after successful trial runs at the Arab Cup and Club World Cup. It was also put through its paces by independent review teams at various universities across the world.
The current offside system in football is a much-maligned one. Prior to SOAT technology, close offside decisions required video referees to determine the offside line on the pitch manually before a decision was made - something which often inserted a minutes-long pause in the action.
The new system will see a digital rendering of the offside call displayed on the stadium screen and on television within seconds.
"We use the same data that has been collected by the different elements of semi-automated offsides to generate a 3D animation because we want to provide the best possible perspectives to the football fans," said FIFA director of football technology and innovation Johannes Holzmuller.
"I think we all agree, especially for tight offside incidents, sometimes it's quite difficult if you have if you only see the overlapping lines to say if a player was offside or not."
The aim is to reduce the time it takes to make tight offside decisions from the current average of 70 seconds to something closer to 15-20 seconds.
Collina, though, was keen to state that the added use of automated technology will not make traditional refereeing redundant.
"I heard and I read about robot referees and similar things - I understand that sometimes this is very good for headlines, but this is not the case," he said.
"The match officials are still involved in the decision-making process as the semi-automatic offside gives an answer only when a player who was in an offside position plays the ball. In other words, the assessment of interfering with an opponent remains a match official's responsibility.
"If only the technology would be relevant probably there would be an engineer, instead of me, speaking with you today."