What is SAOT?
It may have an acronym similar to a reality show, but Semi-Automated Offside Technology, or SAOT, was designed to quell drama rather than cause it. An extension of VAR, SAOT has been introduced to help reduce issues with one of the most controversial aspects of video-assisted refereeing: how to decide if a player is offside in the build-up to a goal. It will be used during the World Cup in Qatar.
How it works?
In a nutshell: artificial intelligence analyzes location data to map players’ positions when a ball is kicked. If the AI deems a player to be offside, an alert is sent to the VAR indicating the “kick point” of the ball and the offside line. After manually checking this alert, the VAR official notifies the referee and any on-field decisions are changed accordingly.
A SAOT decision at the World Cup will be made using data sent by a sensor inside the ball, the Adidas Al Rihla, transmitting its position 500 times per second, along with that of 12 tracking cameras around the stadium that track both the ball and 29 different points on a player’s body (the cameras relay their information 50 times per second). The AI will also create a 3D graph showing the offside line and the position of the players in relation to it. This graphic will be generated once the decision is made and shown to fans inside the stadium and on TV.
Why was it introduced?
Law 11 of the football regulations begins quite clearly: a player is offside, he says, if “any part of the head, body or feet is closer to the opponents’ goal line than the ball and the penultimate opponent”. But there are caveats that must be applied to this rule. For example: a player can only be offside in the opponent’s half, and cannot be offside if an opponent deliberately touched the ball last. These qualifications are also subject to further review. This season regulator Ifab was forced to clarify what ‘deliberate’ meant, an explanation that ran to 400 words.
Given its complexity, it’s no surprise that the offside law has posed the biggest challenges for VAR. In the basic configuration, an official remotely assesses an incident by replaying video footage. Such limitations were quick to manifest after the introduction of VAR in the Premier League. Video footage often cannot capture the precise moment a ball is kicked, while offside lines have also been determined manually. In the case of a high-stakes decision, where the difference between a goal or not is only a matter of millimeters, such an approach instantly created the possibility of frustration. Perhaps more crucially, these decisions could take several minutes to make.
SAOT came with the promise that it would be both more accurate and faster, cutting decision times from an average of 70 seconds to 25. Fifa head of refereeing Pierluigi Collina described SAOT as “faster and more accurate” and “providing better communication for Fans”.
Where was it tested?
SAOT made their Arab Cup debut in Qatar last year. He was also picked up by UEFA for this season’s Champions League.
Did he pass the test?
Although there is little controversy over the correctness of decisions under SAOT, appeals that deem a player offside by margins not visible in the stadium, or on the video screen, remain controversial with managers and supporters. The main problem with SAOT, however, remains the reason it was introduced in the first place: timing.
The Arab Cup went off without a hitch, but examples unearthed by ESPN reporter Dale Johnson revealed delays of more than a minute and, in one case, more than two minutes in decisions on the goals with potential offside incidents. This pattern has spread in the Champions League this season. Harry Kane had a winning goal ruled out against Sporting Lisbon due to the interpretation of a paragraph of the offside law which took four minutes to complete. There was also a long delay at Liverpool against Napoli and controversy following a disallowed goal by Patrik Schick for Bayer Leverkusen against Club Brugge.
In Kane’s example, it’s hard not to imagine that the delay was generated less by technology than by the subsequent intervention of human beings tasked with fully enforcing the offside law. Human fallibility and/or subjectivity, as well as the complexity of human-written rules (with handball not far behind offside in this respect), remain the biggest impediments to the effective operation of VAR. UEFA note, however, that offside decisions take on average 30 seconds less to complete in the Champions League than in this season’s Europa League, where basic VAR is still operational.
In previous Fifa tournaments, namely the 2018 Men’s World Cup and the 2019 Women’s World Cup, VAR managed to avoid taking center stage, perhaps due to greater discretion given to officials. on the pitch – something a lot of fans would like to see more of. regularly. If that’s the case again in Qatar, the hope could still be the benefit of correct decisions without the pain of grueling delays.
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