The Men’s Football World Cup in Qatar promised to be unique in many ways. For the first time in 92 years, the tournament was held in the Middle East in an Arab country. It was not played during the northern summer season as is tradition. But maybe the most significant novelty, or at least the one set to leave a most lasting mark, is the extensive use of technology to assist referees we saw there.
Before diving into the matter, let’s start from the beginning.
What is AI in football?
It refers to the application of AI in football games, result prediction, player training, and other aspects related to the sport.
Some of the ways AI is used in football are:
For player tracking and analysis
By using computer vision and machine learning algorithms, AI can track the movement of players and the ball in real time, providing valuable data on player positioning, speed, and distance covered. This data can be used to help coaches and players make strategic decisions during games, as well as for post-game analysis and player development.
Analysis of player and team performance data
By collecting and analyzing large amounts of data, AI algorithms can identify patterns and trends that may not be immediately apparent to human analysts. This data can then be used to help coaches and players make more informed decisions about tactics, training, and player selection.
AI can be used to analyze data on player fitness, movement, and injury history to identify potential injury risks. This can help coaches to adjust training programs to minimize the risk of injuries.
AI can be used to assist referees with important decisions such as offside calls and penalty decisions. This technology can be used to quickly and accurately analyze player movements and ball positions to make more informed decisions.
Does FIFA use AI?
Yes, FIFA uses AI in various aspects of football, including in-game analysis, match officiating, and player scouting.
What technology is used in FIFA?
- Goal-line technology: FIFA uses a camera-based system that analyzes high-speed camera footage to determine if the ball has fully crossed the goal line.
- Video Assistant Referee (VAR): VAR uses video replays and computer technology to help officials make more accurate and informed decisions.
- Player tracking technology: This technology can provide coaches and analysts with valuable data on player performance, such as distance covered, speed, and positioning.
- Electronic Performance and Tracking Systems (EPTS): The system uses wearable technology, such as GPS trackers and heart rate monitors, to collect data on players and analyze their performance.
- FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT): The game mode uses a database of player statistics and ratings to create a virtual marketplace where players can buy, sell, and trade players.
This may also interest you: Uses of Artificial Intelligence – How it’s changing the world.
How was AI involved in the World Cup 2022?
Aside from the still controversial VAR (Video Assistant Referee) -which doesn’t seem to have been entirely successful at reducing human error- we saw at the World Cup a new AI-powered system that alerts referees whenever a player is in an offside position.
But wait. What’s offside? What you need to know is that a player is considered to be in an offside position whenever a part of their body is closer to the opponent’s goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent (the first one usually being the goalkeeper) at the exact moment in which a pass is directed to that player.
It is a pretty complex rule that has produced thousands of disputes throughout football history. Now, after more than 150 years of controversies, the International Football Association (FIFA) will put an end to them for good during the upcoming World Cup, with a little help from AI.
What is the AI model for World Cup 2022?
FIFA introduced Semi-Automated Offside Technology (SAOT), which determines if players are in an offside position and give notice to referees. In addition, SAOT displays 3D images on stadium screens so that people can understand the referee’s decision.
Although VAR is now intervening in potential offside plays, SAOT is able to easily tackle one of its main issues: time. While a decision made with the use of VAR may take minutes, interrupting the flux of the game and altering both players and fans, SAOT can accurately determine a wrongful position and alert the referee in about 20 seconds.
But why did the system need the aid of AI? Well, because of the massive amount of data it needed to process in an extremely short period.
SAOT used 12 cameras beneath every stadium’s roof synchronized to track 29 data points on players’ bodies 50 times per second. Simultaneously, a sensor in the ball tracked its acceleration 500 times per second to give an accurate time stamp for the decisive pass.
Ancient Games, Intelligent Machines
The majority of the most popular sports of our time were invented at some point in the 19th century. Although, at first, their main goal could have been entertainment, they were also intended to be something akin to the physical games of the ancient world: a tribute and a testimony to the powers and potentials of the human body.
Bearing this in mind, it should come as no surprise that old and conservative institutions such as FIFA have been reluctant to accept the use of technology, regarding it as an unwanted intrusion in an entirely human realm. Yet, the history -still quite recent- of technology adoption in football that will have a new chapter this November in Qatar may be pointing in a new direction. What was once an exclusive realm of the human body is opening its doors to the valued help of intelligent machines.
To learn more about AI in sports, read this awesome article about an AI trainer for robot football players!