For Its First ‘Wired World Cup’, FIFA Harnesses AI, Multiple Tracking Cameras, To Ensure Error-free Refereeing
For the first time, a ‘connected ball’ with in-built sensors and semi-automated technology to make accurate offside decisions, is being deployed at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
An AI-driven app helps every player study and learn from his on-field performance.
One week into the FIFA World cup 2022 in Qatar, seasoned football fans are sensing a difference.
A slight, sometimes imperceptible, slowing down of some games, when off-the-field Video Assistant Referees or VARs assisted by multiple cameras and sensors make suggestions to help the on-field referees make the correct decision or amend a ruling.
The 2022 global football fiesta is arguably the most technology-driven in FIFA history.
A number of new tools driven by Artificial Intelligence and harnessing image processing and pressure sensor analysis are being deployed to ensure that the entire tournament is free from refereeing controversies that have played earlier World Cup events.
This is already being dubbed the 'Wired World Cup' – and not without reason: the ground, the ball, even the players are effectively ‘wired’ into a massive information network.
For starters, this is the first World Cup which used a 'Connected Ball': The supplier, Adidas, has created a match ball with a built-in suspension system.
This includes a motion sensor that sends out data 500 times per second. The sensor provides insight into every element of the movement of the ball and is powered by a rechargeable battery.
The technology is unnoticeable for players and does not affect the balls’ performance. “With accurate live ball data, the connected ball technology will enable a new age of football analytics and fan experience,” says Kinexo, the company that provided the sensor technology to Adidas.
Two other technologies deployed in Qatar, harness the data from the Connected Ball:
1. Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system: It is a support tool for officials that had already been used in the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
It supports the decision-making process of the referee in match-changing situations like goals, penalty decisions and offences leading up to a goal or a penalty, the ‘Red Card’ incidents (where a referee requires a player to leave the field) and cases of mistaken identity.
The video assistant referee team has access to 42 broadcast cameras, eight of which are super slow motion and four of which are ultra-slow motion.
The video assistant referee team supports the referee on the ground from a centralised video operation room (VOR) located in Doha.
The on-field referee at each stadium talks to the VAR team via a fibre-optic link. All video assistant referee team members are qualified FIFA video match officials.
To ensure that all fans are well informed during a review process, a VAR information system shares the information with broadcasters and commentators.
2. Semi-automated offside technology: It is a support tool for both the video match officials and the on-field referees to help them make faster, more accurate offside decisions, always the most difficult to make.
It uses 12 tracking cameras mounted underneath the roof of the stadium to track the ball and up to 29 data points on each individual player including all limbs and extremities that are relevant for making offside calls, tracked 50 times per second, calculating their exact position on the pitch.
The inertial measurement unit (IMU) sensor embedded in the centre of the ball, provides another tool for the detection of tight offside incidents.
This sensor sends ball data to the video operation room 500 times per second, allowing a very precise detection of the kick point.
By combining the limb- and ball-tracking data and applying artificial intelligence, the technology provides an automated offside alert to the video match officials inside the video operation room whenever the ball is received by an attacker who was in an offside position at the moment the ball was played.
After manually checking the automatically selected kick point and the automatically created offside line, the video match official informs the on-field referee – all within seconds.
Here is a 2-minute FIFA YouTube video explaining how the semi-automated offside technology works.
Tool for players
FIFA is also debuting a Player App, which will give each player the opportunity to access his individual performance data, shortly after each match.
Performance analysis is combined with tracking data and is synchronised with match footage to enable players to watch all key moments of their own performance in detail, using different camera angles.
An enhanced experience
In Qatar, FIFA has undertaken to provide an Enhanced Football Intelligence service with new metrics to enrich the coverage and analysis of every game at the World Cup 2022.
It promises to share “the most modern insights, metrics and performance data in tournament history with the worldwide TV and online audience, together with the participating teams and their players.”
“Every match will have its own unique set of in-match and post-match enhanced football intelligence visuals presented as Augmented Reality (AR) and traditional graphics.”
Beyond FIFA, some predictions
Not all the technology being deployed during the World Cup 2022 is coming from the organisers.
The Alan Turing Institute, the UK’s national institution for Artificial Intelligence and data science has created an algorithm to try and predict the winner.
In a blog on 18 November, the Institute describes a statistical model it created to play fantasy premier league football in the UK, which it has now tweaked.
“To predict the winner of the 2022 World Cup, we first needed to train our model with past data. We decided to use all international results from the 2002 World Cup onwards… We also feed the official FIFA rankings into our model to provide an up-to-date estimate of team performance.”
Using this data, the algorithm suggests; “Brazil are heavy favourites, with around 25 per cent chance of winning, while Belgium and Argentina are also highly rated. England are the fifth most likely team to win, after France.”
For Indians for whom cricket is their favorite sport, the use of technology like slow motion cameras and microphones to help the Third Umpire arrive at accurate decisions in cases like LBW or Run Out, is now accepted as part of the evolving game. Football, it seems, is catching up – fast.
On field and off it, 2022 may be the year when competitive football will feel the garam hava of technology and innovation in ways that will transform the game forever.
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