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FIFA will track players’ bodies using AI to make offside calls at the 2022 World Cup

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FIFA, the international governing body for association football,* has announced that it will use AI-powered cameras to help referees call offsides at the 2022 World Cup.

The semi-automated system consists of a sensor on the ball that transmits its position on the pitch 500 times a second and 12 tracking cameras mounted under the roof of the stadiums, which use machine learning to track 29 points on players’ bodies.

The software will combine this data to generate automatic alerts when players commit offside offenses (ie when they are closer to the other team’s goal than their penultimate opponent and receive the ball). Alerts will be sent to officials in a nearby control room, who will validate the decision and tell the referees on the field what decision to make.

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FIFA states that this process will happen “within a few seconds and means that offside decisions can be made more quickly and accurately.” The data generated by the cameras and the ball will also be used to create automated animations, which can be played on screens in the stadium and on television broadcasts “to inform all spectators in the clearest way possible” why it is happening. made the call.

It is the latest example of sports adopting automated technology to help referees make decisions. FIFA previously introduced VAR, or the video assistant referee, which allows referees to review decisions using side monitors, at the 2018 World Cup.

In a press release, Pierluigi Collina, president of the FIFA Referees Committee, said the new system would allow officials to make “faster and more accurate decisions”, but stressed that humans, not “robots”, were still in charge of the game.

“I know someone called it ‘robot offside’; it’s not,” Collina said. “The referees and assistant referees remain responsible for the decision on the field of play.”

FIFA President Gianni Infantino said: “This technology is the culmination of three years of dedicated research and testing to bring the best to teams, players and fans. […] and FIFA is proud of this work as we look forward to the world seeing the benefits of semi-automatic offside technology at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.”

A key part of the system is an inertial measurement unit (IMU) sensor, placed inside Al Rihla’s official match ball, which transmits its location on the pitch 500 times per second.
Image: FIFA

The 2022 World Cup will be held in Qatar, making it the first World Cup to be hosted in an Arab country. To compensate for the heat in Qatar, the tournament will be played from November to December instead of the summer, as is the tradition.

The decision to host the World Cup in Qatar has been heavily criticized. An investigation by the US Department of Justice found that senior FIFA officials had been bribed into awarding the tournament to the Arab country (narrowly beating the US itself in securing hosting rights).

Numerous investigations by organizations such as Human Rights Watch and The Guardian it also found that Qatar’s stadiums have been built by migrant workers who are essentially slaves: their passports confiscated and their wages suspended. An investigation in 2021 found that at least 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar due to extreme working conditions (such as lack of access to water) since the country won the World Cup in 2010.

The first four games of the 2022 World Cup will be played on November 21 and include England vs Iran and USA vs Wales (all teams in Group B).

*I work for an American company. I am a British writer. Calling it “association football” instead of “football” or “football” is a result that absolutely nobody likes, that is, a compromise.

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