International sports keep redesigning their structure and implementing the newest technologies in line with the trends. On this note, FIFA -the world’s International Football Federation – continues its path of innovation within the football industry after the introduction of VAR – video assistant referee – which is not yet established in all national and international tournaments. This is one of the inventions that has had the most impact on football in recent years, despite the fact that the big leagues were initially resisting its fully-fledged implementation. The turning point was the last World Cup, held in Russia where, for the first time in the history of the World Cup, video arbitration was installed. The Spanish League was one of the last to incorporate it and today it generates constant controversy as it depends on the interpretation of the referee whether a play is reviewed or not. It also opens two fronts: those who believe that it takes a long time to make that decision and those who believe that, applying technology, refereeing errors will no longer be present in football.
This tool allows replaying video games that have not been clear or that generate doubts, in order to avoid arbitration errors. Goals that do not enter, penalties in which the goalkeeper comes forward, doubtful playing offside and unjustified cards is what we are trying to supply with this new video arbitration system. But you have to go back to the 2016 Club World Cup, which took place in Japan, to see the first time something similar was implemented, in the form of a tennis’ hawk’s eye. Later it would reach leagues such as the Bundesliga or the Premier League through “Live Technology” applications. The VAR regulations reveal four situations in which the referee can make use of this technology, that is, review the play.
The first is the goal. All goals are reviewed to make sure there is no doubt when it comes to raising the score to a team. This will avoid phantom goals. The second is the penalty or “maximum penalty”, leaving behind debates that arouse so much controversy around football. The third is a red card. Expelling a player from the field of play leaves one of the two teams clearly inferior, so you want to be sure of a decision as important as this one. The fourth and last is identity confusion, where video assistants inform the referee of the player that they have committed a certain infraction so that there are no mistakes in this regard.
The referee, in any case, has the option of giving way to the video assistants and vice versa, that is, these notify the referee that there is a play to be reviewed. Therefore, video arbitration assistants report what they have seen through the headphones. The referee has the power, if he does not see it clearly, to approach the band and review the play through a tablet, deciding what to whistle.
But the FIFA wants to go further ahead and during the last Club World Cup held in Qatar, where Liverpool was victorious, AI – Artificial Intelligence – joined the VAR for the first time. In this way, the International Football Federation wanted to help the decisions made from the Video assistant referee table and make no mistake about being offside by a few millimeters.
Based on data points – heat maps – algorithms can determine which point and which extremity is closest to the goal line at any given time, and then they can use this to create the offside lines. This data is used to create a semi-automatic offside system that detects when the ball is played and places the offside line in the correct position. This new semi-automatic offside system tracks players by establishing between 15 and 20 points per player, to later determine which point is closest to the goal line.
Hence, it is clear that Artificial Intelligence is one of the technologies that will have the greatest impact on football in the coming years. The more you trust technology, the more you have to be sure that technology is good enough for that purpose. As in our normal life, it is obvious that artificial intelligence is one of the technologies that will have the greatest impact on soccer in the coming years.
The combination of VAR and AI, however, is not intended to replace human judgment. The objective data provided by Artificial Intelligence reduces uncertainty and makes a decision easier to take, making soccer development fairer, despite the fact that many do not support technology implementation in the field. Therefore, FIFA will continue its investigations and tests until it can be implemented with guarantee in official matches.
It a matter of time for AI to revolutionize the sports industry permanently.