Science

In football, artificial intelligence stalks the offside – sciences et Avenir

Since 2012, FIFA has been implementing goal-line technologies in football stadiums, which indicate whether the ball has crossed the fatal boundary or not when the human eye has failed. Ten years later, the international organization is preparing to deploy another high-tech device: semi-automatic offside detection. On trial this year, it will be deployed in competition for the FIFA Arab Cup to be played in Qatar from November 30 to December 18, 2021. But what is at stake is the 2022 World Cup, also in Qatar.

As with the goal line, the process relies on cameras whose data is sent to servers for automated analysis. It is no longer the ball and the goal line that the objectives follow, but the players themselves and their positioning in relation to others.

In this case, Hawk-Eye Innovations company technology was chosen. He had already equipped the stadiums during the 2018 World Cup in Russia, to follow the goal lines.

29 data points on the player’s body

For offside, ten to twelve cameras will be installed under the stadium roofs. They send the transmission in real time to servers where artificial intelligence software tools analyze the point of contact of the ball with a player, as well as 29 data points about the players. Specifically, these data consist of areas of the footballers’ body, mainly joints, which allow the athlete to position themselves and understand their behavior. The system detects the exact moment of contact with the ball and which parts of the attacker’s or second-to-last defender’s body are closest to the goal line. Offside is, for an attacker, being closer to the goal line of the opposing team than to the penultimate defender of this team (the last defender is the goalkeeper).

However, the technology does not have the ambition to say that there is an offside but, depending on the analysis, to send an alert to the video officials at the refereeing, in the viewing room, to report a possible offside. Then the assistant looks at the sequence and decides if there is a fault. He then reports to the referee on the field.

Because the data captured is not enough. In fact, the offside position is much more difficult to assess than the validity of a goal. And it is not necessarily a fault. This requires looking at the general action, who is in contact with the ball at the moment, how attackers and defenders interfere with each other, etc. Basically, you have to evaluate not only the position of the players, but also their intentions. A delicacy of analysis that completely escapes technology. Hence the “semi-automatic” detection rating by FIFA. This new process should allow for faster offside refereeing, which always takes time due to the uncertainties surrounding these players’ setups.

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