Could the Premier League introduce semi-automatic offside technology?

The return of the Champions League – the glitz, the music and the semi-automatic offside calls – serves as a timely reminder of the Premier League.

The video assistant referee (VAR)’s “significant” errors in two offside decisions at the Emirates and Selhurst Park led to Arsenal and Brighton & Hove Albion apologizing from chief referee Howard Webb, dropping officials and holding a meeting to discuss sets and to discuss the correct implementation of the technique.

The hope is that a reality check will help avoid such high-profile cases of human error, though in the short term they may simply have to remain part of the equation.

However, the Premier League is closely monitoring the introduction of semi-automated offside technology in the first clubs’ UEFA club competitions, regardless of its successful deployment at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

The Premier League is also part of FIFA’s technology working group and world football’s governing body is in regular contact with the top leagues on the latest developments and the implementation of new technologies in line with the Laws of the Game. There will also be automatic offside at the Women’s World Cup this summer.

“We believe that semi-automatic offside technology can take us a step further,” said Pierluigi Collina, chairman of the FIFA Referees Committee, in July. β€œSometimes the process of assessing a possible offside takes too long, especially when the offside incident is very close. This is where semi-automated offside technology comes in – to make faster and more accurate decisions.”

Those clubs already plagued by mistakes this season hope a similar stance will be adopted sooner rather than later in the Premier League – especially when it comes to fine points gaps in the title race or relegation battle this season.

What happened over the weekend?

At Crystal Palace, Brighton had a goal from Pervis Estupinan that was wrongly ruled offside in the 1-1 draw when VAR John Brooks drew an offside line from the wrong place on a replay. Brooks was then ruled out of fulfilling the same role for Monday’s Merseyside derby and Arsenal’s against Manchester City on Wednesday.

Also on Saturday, Lee Mason failed to apply offside lines for the final stretch of Ivan Toney’s equalizer for Brentford against Arsenal despite Christian Norgaard being ruled offside in the build-up.

Brentford Arsenal cool bold aggressive

Toney’s goal against Arsenal was saved (Picture: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Why would a semi-automated system reduce human error?

If a semi-automated system is used, no lines need to be drawn or activated. Instead, a virtual offside line is automatically generated, in addition to accurately identifying skeletal points – including the head, toes, upper arm and knees – in multiple players at once. Ball tracking shows where the ball is when it’s kicked, and all of this is communicated to the referee via a real-time artificial intelligence alert system.

Although the technology is doing the hard work, VAR officials still need to validate the proposed decision and then notify the on-field referee. That’s why it’s called “semi-automatic”. But unlike recent Premier League blunders by Brooks or Mason, officers are not required to intervene by drawing or activating lines on incidents. This is to reduce human error.

Could we see it in the Premier League soon then?

The technology is there, but FIFA and UEFA, the governing body of European football, have an advantage because they have their own dedicated match officials at every game. Other leagues don’t have this (they are based in a central hub, for example) due to the sheer volume of games they run. Hence the broadcast logistics and game day decisions come into the equation.

While there are no rules as to when new technology might be implemented, it’s also rarely done mid-season – tempting as that may be. The technology would come for the 2023/24 season at the earliest.

Nor has the Premier League settled on the complexity of the system it could opt for.

How does it work?

Information is collected 50 times per second with 12 tracking cameras (10 in the Champions League) mounted on the stadium’s roof, which monitor the exact position of the ball and up to 29 player data points.

In its simplest form (without a ball sensor, which is not used in the Champions League, or without so-called “player tags”), a semi-automated system can be implemented by any competition organizer without formal approval, but FIFA outlines the minimum technology requirements at venues .

Read more about semi-automated offside technology here.

(Photo above: Getty Images) Could the Premier League introduce semi-automatic offside technology?

Russell Falcon

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