A New Era for Referees and Semi-Automated Offsides
The former Premier League referees’ chief, Keith Hackett, was quick to dismiss criticism of match officials, likening it to advising Lionel Messi on his performance. Hackett pointed out the rarity of referees making incorrect decisions. However, even Messi has rarely committed blunders as glaring as the erroneous offside rulings, despite having the advantage of numerous video replays.
Luis Diaz’s Controversial Disallowed Goal
Luis Diaz’s disallowed goal for Liverpool against Tottenham Hotspur at the end of September epitomized the issues with video assistant referees (VARs) accurately making offside decisions. The Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) acknowledged “significant human error” in this instance.
Embracing Semi-Automated Offside Technology
While a semi-automated offside system has found a place in European football, the Premier League chose to exclude it for the 2023/24 season. Here’s a comprehensive look at the technology that could have potentially rescued the Premier League’s match officials from valid criticism.
FIFA’s Vision for Semi-Automated Offsides
FIFA’s referee chair, Pierluigi Collina, expressed optimism about the benefits of semi-automated offside technology in July 2022. Collina noted that the current process of checking offside incidents can be time-consuming, especially in tight situations. Semi-automated offside technology aims to deliver quicker and more precise decisions.
The Technology Behind Semi-Automated Offsides
A network of twelve cameras positioned on stadium roofs gathers data from 29 points on a player’s body at a rate of 50 times per second. Additionally, a sensor located in the middle of the ball produces an astonishing 500 readings per second, accurately registering when contact is made. AI-powered software rapidly processes this wealth of data.
The Human Element in Semi-Automated Offsides
Despite the advanced technology, the ultimate decision still lies with human officials. This is where the “semi” in semi-automated comes into play. These officials must determine which players are actively interfering with play, leaving room for potential controversy.
The Ongoing Debate
Even with semi-automated offsides, controversies persist. Earlier this season, Nathan Ake’s goal for Manchester City against Fulham was allowed to stand, despite Manuel Akanji, in an offside position, blocking Bernd Leno’s view. Howard Webb, the current referees’ chief, later conceded that this was a “clear” error.
In conclusion, the introduction of semi-automated offside technology represents a significant step forward in refining the accuracy and speed of offside decisions. While it holds promise, it remains a subject of ongoing debate and scrutiny within the world of football officiating.