Here’s how automated offside will work during the 2022 World Cup and Champions League.
What is automated offisde?
Automated offside would be having a computer make all offside decisions. To be clear, that’s not what’s happening in the FIFA World Cup or UEFA Champions League.
Assistant referees will still be on the pitch and will still make offside decisions. Unlike goalline technology, which buzzes the referee’s watch to call a goal immediately, offside technology only comes into play for video reviews.
The process is more properly and officially called semi-automated offside technology.
What is semi-automated offside technology?
When VAR started, and in most leagues today, the video match officials have to manually determine offside position. They have to go frame by frame to figure out the exact moment the ball left a player’s foot or kick point.
In addition to the excessive amounts of time some reviews are taking, a decision could be wrong if the VAR freezes the potential offside play on the wrong frame.
With semi-automated offside technology, technology determines the exact position of all of the players and the exact moment the ball leaves a player’s foot.
The official match ball will contain a sensor that transmits tracking data to the video assistant referees. Multiple cameras will track the movement of the players and draw the offside line.
The video assistant referee will be able to instantly see whether or not a player is offside based on the automatically selected kick point. The system will also send offside alerts to the VAR team, so they don’t miss checking a potential offside incident.
What decisions can be reviewed by automated offside?
Since semi-automated offside technology is only used during video review, it will mainly come into play after a goal has been scored. As always, the video match officials will check each goal to make sure there was no offside or other infractions in the buildup to the goal.
Assistant referees will continue to delay raising their flag on close decisions to avoid having incorrect offside decisions wipe out goals. If an assistant referee wrongly raises the flag and the referee stops play before a goal is scored, the call is not subject to VAR review.
Automated offside may also come into play on a potential penalty kick or red card. If the attacking player was offside, the offside wipes out the foul.
Where was automated offside trialed?
Semi-automated offside technology has been trialed in several competitions, including the FIFA Club World Cup 2021 and FIFA Arab Cup 2021. These include both live tests where the technology made decisions and other tests where trained video match officials reviewed the technology in real time but weren’t making calls in the actual game.
Several major leagues have long used some degree of technology to help draw the offside line and determine offside situations quickly. Fans of those leagues probably won’t notice too much difference with the new technology.
Who has the final decision in semi-automated offside?
The human video match officials will confirm any decisions made by semi-automated offside technology. This includes looking not just at the recommendation the technology makes but also checking the video replay to make sure the system made the correct decision.
Competitions have been inconsistent on whether the referee goes to the monitor on offside calls or not. Some leagues say there is no need because it is a black-and-white decision. Others send the referee to the monitor for any important decision.
There was inconsistency in the 2018 World Cup as well. Many offside decisions were made without the referee checking the monitor, but referee Mark Geiger went to the screen when calling off a Germany goal when they were eliminated against South Korea.
What happens if semi-automated technology fails?
If there is a problem with semi-automated offside technology during a match, the video match officials would review offside calls manually.
In the unlikely event that the VAR room goes down completely due to technical errors, the on-field decisions would stand as final.
In case of repeated problems during FIFA World Cup 2022, FIFA would likely suspend or modify semi-automated offside technology for the rest of the tournament.
When does automated offside start in the Champion’s League?
The Champion’s league will use automated offside alerts from the group stage on. Not every Champion’s League venue has the technology in place, so this is mostly a question of economics.
In future years, there may be wider adoption in the same way that the original use of VAR expanded to more leagues and rounds over time.