Advanced technologies have dominated the past couple of football world cups. Back in 2010, when Qatar was selected to host the 2022 world cup, they promised to deliver FIFA’s commitments towards using technologies in football, with the aim of enhancing the football experience on and off the pitch. The world cup started on 20th November 2022, and since then people’s reaction has been polarizing, to say the least. So, the question arises automatically, does football require perfection, or did the flawed decisions make the game what it is today?
Tech Behind World Cup Football 2022
From its inception, Football has always been a social sport. Millions of fans celebrate together when big events like the FIFA World Cup happen. It’s the most prestigious tournament in the history of football. The perspective of competition is stimulating and thrilling. Most of the time, it’s the excitement and suspense of not knowing what will happen next that keeps people engaged. That’s why people still remember 1986’s “Hand of God” by Maradona or 1966’s controversial goal by Geoff Hurst. Incidents like these made people emotionally attached to the game that we all love. People still remember and argue over these, after ages!
But when FIFA introduced technologies into the game to bring fairness, things became even more controversial. 2022’s Qatar world cup is no exception and with additional new tech support, FIFA is facing more backlash than ever. First, let’s understand what these new technologies are and how they are assisting the referees in taking decisions.
Semi-Automated Offside Technology (SAOT)
The semi-automated offside technology uses 12 dedicated tracking cameras mounted underneath the roofs of the football stadiums. These cameras collect 29 data points in each of the 22 individual players on the field up to 50 times per second. The official match ball “AL RIHLA” has an inertial measurement Unit (IMU) sensor in the core. This sensor provides the precise detection of the ball’s movement to the video operation room at a rate of 500 times per minute.
Goal-Line Technology (GLT)
Goal-line technology is a system that uses either physical cameras or a changing magnetic field to track the ball and determine if it has crossed the line, an encrypted signal is transmitted to the referee, who can decide whether or not to award a goal. In the Qatar world cup, there are 14 cameras mounted on the catwalk of the stadium. The data from the camera is used to create a 3D animation to visualize the decision to the fans on TV and on the giant screen inside the stadium.
Video Assistant Referee Technology (VAR)
Instead of just one person, a team of three people works together to review decisions made by the on-field referee. They do this by watching video footage of the relevant occurrences. Usually, the process for reviewing a decision works in one of two ways, the VAR team can recommend a review, or the on-field referee can request a review after making a decision by watching the footage from the sideline monitor. Once the decision happens, the referee either sticks to the initial decision or overturns the decision based on the VAR’s advice.
FIFA Football Data Ecosystem
The football data ecosystem is a network of several data sources. It’s the language for every stakeholder, like a blueprint of how FIFA analyzes football. The language can analyze the game and provide operational definitions and multiple video examples to clearly define each action, by recording live event data and processing every action on the field of play. This system collects the positional data of all players, the referees, and the ball with a high-end optical tracking system. Optical tracking can also calculate speed, distance, and direction of play.
FIFA Player App
FIFA has developed the FIFA player app, based on inputs from professional players, in collaboration with FIFPRO, the global representative of professional footballers. This app is being used for the first time at a FIFA world cup. It merges two types of data-
- Physical Performance Metrics
- Enhanced Football Intelligent Metrics
Players also have access to the app, so they can analyze their own performance right after the match. FIFA and FIFPRO have developed a charter of player data rights like European general data protection regulation.
All these technologies have accelerated the analysis process and theoretically, room for error is pretty low, because AI technology can pinpoint accurate results based on facts. Still, we’ve seen some types of controversial decisions in this world cup in every other match, if not in all the matches. Let’s look at some infamous incidents that spark all the hate train towards extensive use of technology in the world cup.
There’s a famous quote that goes like this- “Humanity is acquiring all the right technology for all the wrong reasons.” 2022’s world cup is giving the same vibe. On 30th November 2022, Tunisia stunned France, as they got a 1-0 win over the defending champion. Initially, The French equalized with the last kick of the ball via an Antoine Griezmann goal. But the goal was canceled for Griezmann’s offside position- after the kickoff whistle. The rule states that a referee can not take video assistance after kickoff, which the referee did, ignoring the official playbook. The result of this match didn’t change anything because Tunisia was already eliminated before the match. But on 2nd December 2022, Japan defeated Spain by 2-1, and the controversial goal by Ao Tanaka was the deciding factor for Germany to be eliminated from the group round.
According to FIFA rules, the ball should be completely out of the line to be out. However, in this case, the ball curvature touched the line, so it was in and the decision from the video assistant said right. Other controversial decisions were taken with the help of technology, like Ronaldo’s goal that was awarded to his Ex-ManU teammate Bruno Fernandes, and the disallowed penalty from Croatia against Belgium-also sparked anger amongst the football fans. If FIFA is advocating for clear and perfect decisions, why are these technologically assisted decisions not appreciated by the fans?
Excitement Got Lost?
Majority of the people consider the Football World Cup to be the biggest show on earth. It’s the only regular contact with football for many fans. They get into the whole month-long event, supporting countries even if their own countries haven’t qualified. But this year’s world cup is different. Extensive use of technology has become an irritating, infuriating, and much more dominating force. In the past, goal or no goal, foul or no foul, these decisions used to be taken by the referee, while players from both teams tried to manipulate the decisions. There was excitement in the negotiations and arguments. Fans used to share the same passion and energy as the players.
But in the last couple of years, we get to see more and more involvement of technology to bring fairness to a game. To a certain point, it’s a good thing. Where every pass and goal matters, this technological assistance can ensure the validity of every decision. For the game, it is a good thing. Or is it?
Players and fans who are emotionally attached to the game, are feeling repression in their hearts. Nowadays, we see many players won’t even celebrate properly when they score, as they’ll be waiting for VAR to say whether the goal should stand or not. In this process, human spontaneity is lost. To reduce human errors, these techs are introduced, but they’re causing even more problematic and questioning decisions. It feels more natural to hate the decisions of the referee than hating on the machine. The modern age has made everyone’s life more and more robotic and football was the source of escape from reality for many. With the extensive touch of technology, the RAW feelings are fading away slowly, but surely.
No one expects unfairness in football, it ruins the spirit of the game. But when the whole tournament is heavily dependent on tech, it can become annoying. In hopes of accuracy, the humane aspect shouldn’t be lost. FIFA has to acknowledge the fact that it’s an issue. Nothing is perfect, technologies have offered solutions for many things, but it has also introduced new sets of problems and this world cup is a prime example of it. Technologies can be used to deliver justice to certain scenarios, where things are really blurry, but they should not dominate the whole game. Hopefully, FIFA will preach more refined ways to integrate technologies without hampering the momentum and spontaneity of the game, in the future.