FIFA, football’s international governing body, has announced that it will use artificial intelligence-powered cameras to help referees check offsides at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.

The semi-automated system consists of a sensor in the ball that locates it on the pitch every 500 times per second, and 12 tracking cameras installed under the stadium ceiling, which use machine learning to track 29 points in the players’ bodies.

The software will combine this data to create automatic alerts when players commit offside offenses, ie when they are closer to the other team’s goal than their last opponent and receive the ball. Alerts will be sent to officials in the nearby control room, who will validate the decision and tell the referees on the field what decision needs to be made.

FIFA will track players' bodies using artificial intelligence to check for offsides at the 2022 World CupFIFA will track players’ bodies using artificial intelligence to check for offsides at the 2022 World Cup

FIFA claims that this process will happen “within a few seconds” and by this means that offside decisions can be made faster and more accurately. The data generated by the cameras and the ball will also be used to create automated animations, which can be played on screens in the stadium and in TV broadcasts “to inform all spectators in the clearest way possible” why the referee made the decision.

It is the latest example of sports embracing robotic technology to help referees make decisions. Previously, FIFA introduced VAR, or Video Assistant Referee, in stadiums, which allows referees to review decisions using side monitors, at the 2018 World Cup and other international leagues.

An illustration of a technology idea
An illustration of a technology idea

In a press release, Pierluigi Collina, head of FIFA’s referees committee, said the new system would allow officials to make “faster and more accurate decisions”, but stressed that humans – not “bots” – were still in charge of the game.

Colina says:

“I know someone called the new technology a stealth robot; I say that the referees and assistant referees are still responsible for the decision on the field of play.”

FIFA President Gianni Infantino said:

“This technology is the culmination of three years of research and testing dedicated to delivering the best for teams, players and fans, and FIFA is proud of this work, as we look forward to the world seeing the benefits of semi-automated stealth technology at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.”