Today’s technology is developing at an astounding pace to help us in almost every area of our lives. It was perhaps inevitable that technological developments would also quickly infiltrate the world of sports. With the World Championships in football currently underway, some of these technologies have taken a centre stage. Companies from all over the world are coming up with ever more inventive gadgets to help teams prepare for competitions, improve their training regimes and, finally, in the matches themselves. Find out more about the most important technological solutions that have been officially approved by FIFA and that are currently being used to improve the football matches we all love to watch.
The wireless communication system for referees
For the football referee, it is important to have the best communication possible with the assistant referees, in order to easily agree on decisions and thus be able to manage the game in the most objective and efficient way. The distance between the position of the referee and their assistants, as well as the pace of the game does not, however, make this easy. Thanks to the new wireless communication system, referees can now quickly and securely communicate and exchange information about an action, event or situation. As a result, the main referee, after consulting with the side, technical and field referees, is able to give a decision within a few seconds of any given situation. This means that they can judge with confidence that the game can be played to the highest possible standard and, most importantly, that they can make the right decisions.
To help the referees assess each situation of whether or not a goal was scored, another technology has developed and implemented that helps in the final awarding of a goal – Goal Line Technology. This is the method used to determine when the ball has completely crossed the goal line; the electronic devices scan between the goalposts and below the crossbar. It helps the referee to recognise a goal in the situation where it is unclear if the ball did indeed cross the line. GLT is not aimed at replacing referees but is intended to support them in making appropriate decisions. For a goal to be declared the GLT must clearly indicate that the ball has completely crossed the line.
Image 2 (Photo Credit: Popmech.ru & Wikimedia Commons)
In order for Goal Line Technology to be taken as a serious piece of technology for competitive football matches, it had to undergo countless hours of testing. This involved ensuring that the function of accurately detecting and tracking the ball could prevail in all weather conditions. The tests included various football settings, field formats, types of goal net and other variable game situations. The GLT system cooperates with 14 fast cameras (7 per goal) placed around the pitch on the roof of the stadium. The cameras are connected to a powerful computer image-processing system that tracks the movement of all objects on the pitch, yet can also filter out players, referees and other disturbing objects. The important object for this technology is, of course, the ball. The advanced Goal Line system knows the exact three-dimensional position (X, Y & Z) of the ball with a precision margin of just a few millimetres, no matter where on the pitch it is. When the ball passes through the goal line, the system sends a vibratory and optical signal to the referee watches. Of course, all camera images of such events – as well as all close-ups – are stored and can be played back at any time.
EPTS – Electronic Performance & Tracking System
Electronic tracking and performance systems for athletes help football teams make conscious decisions to improve the performance of their athletes. These systems utilise cameras and transmitters worn by players that can be used to control and improve both their individual performance and ultimately that of the entire team. An EPTS primarily tracks player and ball positions but can also be used in combination with micro-electromechanical devices (accelerometers, gyroscopes, etc.) and heart rate monitors, as well as other devices for measuring load or physiological parameters. The use of an EPTS would traditionally occur during training in order to be able to see how a given player has worked through a chosen training unit.
These solutions can help managers choose the right players for a given match and, for example, plan for certain changes during the match itself. Companies producing these transmitters allow for them to access internet software, meaning that the coach can not only analyse the disposition of each player but can also easily assess the team as a whole. As a result, the coach can get a detailed view of team performance throughout an entire season and a detailed comparison of players strengths and weaknesses. The system can support key decisions, such as talent identification and selection by providing the training staff with valuable information on individual players.
Three types of physical tracking devices are currently available:
Camera systems based on optics
- Non-invasive for players
- Widely used on the football market
- High sampling rate; possible to track the ball
- Limited number of measurements
- Tracking individual objects requires manual adjustment
- Installation time
Local positioning systems (LPS)
- A large number of measurements are possible
- Very high accuracy of measured data in real-time
- Ultrasonic band technology reduces the chances of errors in data transfer
- Installation costs
- Installation time
- A large number of measurements possible
- Short installation time
- An operator is not necessary
- Using this system during matches causes interference with TV broadcasting
Video Assistant Referee (VAR)
The Video Assistant Referee constitutes an assistant referee who checks the decisions made by the main referee by means of video resources and then uses a headset to communicate with the referees on the pitch. In 2018, the VAR was officially enrolled in Game Law by the International Football Association (IFAB). Since its introduction, it has been used in many national leagues and has also now been premiered at the World Cup in Russia. The VAR team has access to 33 television cameras – eight of them are slow-motion and a further four are ultra-slow-motion. In addition, the team utilises to two offside cameras. Offside cameras analyse the game frame-by-frame to remove the uncertainty from offside decisions. These two cameras are only available to the video assistant team. Slow-speed repetitions are mainly used in critical situations, for example, to verify physical contact or foul positions. The normal speed cameras are used for subjective assessments, such as the intensity of a foul or to determine whether there was a deliberate handball.
The VAR system is utilised in only four situations that may determine the course of the match:
– It can be used to check if a goal has been scored in a manner consistent with the rules of the game. This applies to situations when a ball that is on course for a goal is subject to other violations (offside, foul) that may result in a decision to revoke the goal scored.
–Penalties – the system can be used to check whether a penalty should be granted or if a foul occurred in the penalty area. It can also be used to withdraw such a decision, should the VAR show this to be the right course of action.
– Red Cards – If the referee decides that a foul has occurred, the VAR can be used to decide whether to give the player a red card.
– Errors – VAR allows additional referees to intervene if the wrong player has been punished. If so, the referee may change his decision based on the VAR suggestion.
The introduction of VAR took a long time to make it into competitions. This is partly because many people were afraid that it could affect the fluidity of the game. Critics suggest that referees who make decisions using VAR – and then spend time checking the material and making decisions – can cause unnecessary downtime in the game. However, ensuring throughout the course of the match who is right in any particular situation is an important part of the judging process.
Technological innovations at the World Championships in Russia 2018
Another solution approved by FIFA, apart from VAR, is the ability for the coach on the pitch-side to communicate with assistants delegated to the stands. This enables the coaching team to observe the course of the match and the tactical setting of both their team and the opponent from a distance. From such a visual advantage, the assistant is able to provide the coach with valuable information and facts about the course of the match. You may wonder how useful this form of communication is and how in practice it would work. What technologies will these staff representatives use for communication? We will probably only find out after this championship has finished.
The final question remains then – what will be next? Tablets with real-time visualisations? Analysing the real-time changes in tactics or footballers through an artificial intelligence system? The development of technology is so fast that perhaps we will learn about such changes at the next World Cup.
Football technology holds a definitive role in helping players, coaches, referees and even us fans. In questionable situations, it allows for the verification of a referee’s decisions, or to explain to a colleague who supports another team that they were wrong. Some of these systems are certainly controversial, such as VAR. Indeed, some argue that technological innovations will kill the sport, whilst others say that they help the game to be even better. These technologies are so advanced that they can detect even the smallest of errors. I have refrained from presenting the other technologies related to football that are not yet allowed by FIFA. With the technology and computerisation of sport continuing to become ever-more sophisticated, when will we be asking ourselves: has technology not already killed football?