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Semi-automated offside represents the newest stage of technological-integration of soccer.

First off, goal-line technology provided definitive right and wrong for whether or not the ball crossed the goal line. Next, Video Assistant Referee (VAR) allowed officials to get a closer look via replay at infractions on the pitch. Taking that a step further, a new technology allows VAR to recognize infractions in real time via cameras and software.

Making its debut at the 2021 Arab Cup, semi-automated offside involves a set of cameras inside stadiums that track each player. The cameras, which connect to software at the designated offside video operations area, track players throughout the game.

However, the key for this new technology remains in the name: semi-automated offside. Therefore, there is still that ever-important human element. The camera and software simply alert the VAR of a potential offside in near-real time. Then, it is still up to the official in the video booth to make the decision.

For the first time, fans will get to see this software in action. The 2021 Arab Cup in Qatar acts as a trial for the technology. However, it may provide the chance that it appears in one year for the 2022 World Cup, also held in Qatar.

Semi-automated offside

As stated previously, the sport grows more technological as advancements continue on that front. There is certainly opposition to this increased-use of cameras, videos and sensors, but FIFA continues its push to essentially clean the game of errors.

With its debut at the 2021 Arab Cup, semi-automated offside utilizes the modern stadiums (built amidst controversy) to provide an accurate assistance on infractions missed by the officials.

Yet, as FIFA mention in its explanation of the new implementation, offside is not a clear-cut infraction. Goal-line technology is simple, the ball is either across the line or it is not. VAR allowed some clarification on offside, despite some fanbases maligning the technology. Semi-automated offside could be just as stringent, if not more.

How it works

The 2021 Arab Cup will be interesting to see. Fans watching from home often get a glimpse into the rulings made by the VAR official, although it can still be somewhat confusing.

With the more intricate tendencies of this new implementation, there is always the possibility FIFA does not show certain camera angles. However, let’s break down how it works.

With a tournament such as the 2021 Arab Cup, there are six stadiums in use. At each stadium, there are a set of cameras under the roofs that actively and continuously track each player on the field. Moreover, the cameras generate 29 points of reference 50 times each second on every player on the pitch. That’s certainly a lot of movement and action to keep up with, but FIFA’s software keeps track in real time.

Then, the software continuously analyzes these points of reference and signals when there is a possible offside infraction. At that point, the replay official in the designated offside section makes his call.

The entire purpose of semi-automated offside is to cut down the amount of time spent by video assistant referees looking at offside calls. Previously, any goal would get a brief, or extended, look for a possible offside. This should diminish those wait times.

Remember, the main part is that this is semi-automated. There is still a human element that makes the actual call. That video assistant referee then alerts the on-field referee of the offside. All this technology does is help the VAR recognize a potential offside.

The future of video and technology in refereeing

Christina Unkel, a soccer laws analyst at CBS Sports, has experience using technology to officiate games. Despite some fans’ objections to VAR for taking away the spirit of the game, she believes it is here to stay.

Of course, most of people’s concern with VAR is that it is overly stringent, penalizing offenses for having a shoelace out of line when it comes to offside calls. Unkel says the Premier League and the Eredivisie are just two examples of competitions employing a ‘buffer zone’ to allow more judgment, and perhaps more leniency, on the part of the officials.

“It was clear that the strict application with small pixels was harsh in practice as the attacking teams were not receiving an unfair advantage when they were offside by a toe,” Unkel explained.

Unkel mentioned the use of thicker lines on VAR decisions for offside rather than the miniscule pixel-width lines used previously. This change and the use of a margin for error, as it is called in the Eredivisie, should align with the expectations of the sports passionate community.

That is not to say technology and VAR are leaving the sport. In many cases, it allows referees to see things like red card infringements or off-the-ball antics. This extends to offside calls. Unkel believes these will never be fully automated. Yes, technology can determine kick point and margin of error to be exact, but it is still up to the referee to determine whether or not a player interferes with the play.

Unkel, as a former referee, understands the difficulties of refereeing.

“Technology is finally here for the referee to evolve into a modern day referee, but refereeing is still an art, not a science, and we are here to stay.”

FOX Sports has the rights to the Arab Cup, which includes the semi-automated offside technology. Most of the games are televised on FOX Sports 2 from now through December 18, 2021. Check the TV listings on our homepage for more details.