With the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar already underway, the tournament has not been without its controversies due to the poor working conditions for staff and construction workers, the repressive regime, and the very nature in which it was decided that Qatar would host. But as it kicks off, a brand new technology has been introduced to the games since the last World Cup back in 2018, which representatives from Hawkeye Productions told Express.co.uk “makes football quicker”. At Hawk-Eye’s stall at Sky’s Big Ideas event on Saturday, the team explained the ins and outs of the Virtual Assistant Referee (VAR) technology and its new ability to detect offsides.
Dina Hassan, global head of marketing and communications at Hawk-Eye Productions, told Express.co.uk: “VAR is a tool that we built to help officials such as referees or anyone else officiating football matches make accurate and faster decisions. What the technology itself is, is known as what we called smart video reviews, or synchronized multi-angle replay technology.
“What we do is synchronize all of the camera feeds available in order to give the referees an exact view from every angle of what went down at the event on the pitch.
“While VAR was originally introduced at the 2018 World Cup, this year the big advancement on the system of officiating is semi-automatic offsides. This is, in addition to the video feeds and smart video reviews that comes with VAR, we have added on our tracking technology called skeletrack, which tracks the ball and 29 points on the body in real-time to give referees the opportunity to view this incident as it happens.
“What is cool about this is that we are also able to, in under half a second, virtually recreate the action so that there is an actual visualisation of what happened during the offside incident so that referees and even fans can see it clearly.”
Match officials still have to evaluate whether the offside player was interfering with play, but unlike with older versions of VAR, the technology means they do not have to draw offside lines.
And while the Qatar World Cup has been the subject of controversy, VAR technology has also been the subject of criticism as well as praise. Critics say the technology can slow down the game, can still render decisions wrong, and makes human referees less important.
When putting these criticisms to the Hawkeye team, they responded: “Semi-automatic offside does the exact opposite (of making football slower). An average decision usually takes around 70 seconds because it has to go through a system of checks. With semi-automatic offside it actually reduces that time to 15 seconds and is actually speeding up the game, not slowing it down.
“We are really trying to support the evolution of sport through technology. We are hired by the world’s biggest federations to help support their officials make officiating decisions. When it comes to competitors there are very few that cover the scope of what Hawkeye does.”
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FIFA approved the use of “limb-tracking offside technology” at the World Cup in the hopes of speeding up the process of making offside decisions and offering greater clarity to supporters.
Semi-automated offside had been undergoing trials for several years and was used at the Club World Cup early in 2022. Like earlier versions of VAR, match officials still have to evaluate whether the offside player was interfering with play. But the new feature means they don’t have to draw offside lines.
The technology also has data points of each player, and a sensor inside the ball sends data to the video operation room 500 times per second.
When a player receives the ball in an offside position the video match officials will then get automatically alerted. Before telling the on-field referee the VAR team will manually check the decision, a process which then “happens within a few seconds and means that offside decisions can be made faster and more accurately”, according to FIFA.
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However, in just the first few minutes of the opening game of the tournament, VAR technology was once again thrown into hot water when an early goal from Enner Valencia was ruled out after VAR disallowed the goal after a review, deeming it to be scored from an offside position.
The punditry team in the studio at the Al Bayt Stadium could not believe what they had seen during their half-time discussion, despite Ecuador’s eventual 2-0 lead to end the match. But it marked yet another controversial talking point that has been a frequent occurrence with the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Lineker said of the Fenerbahce striker: “He could conceivably have had a hat-trick but I do know if it had been given as a goal, everything is different. But VAR, they found a way!”
Shearer responded: “I’m going to have blooming high blood pressure at the end of the month if it continues like this, Gary. I don’t think there is any person watching this in the world that thinks this is offside.”