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The great offside debate: use new technology or scrap it all together?

Hawk-Eye has told Fifa that its automated offside system is ‘ready to go’

Football’s offside rule could be automated at next year’s Fifa World Cup in Qatar after technology firm Hawk-Eye told the sport’s world governing body that its newly-developed system is “ready to go”. 

Hawk-Eye, which is prominently used in tennis, has been holding non-live trials of technology that can detect offsides automatically, The Times reported. Should Fifa approve it, a “dry run” of semi-automated offsides could be introduced at the Club World Cup in February before the Qatar World Cup, which starts in November 2022. The semi-automated offside system would replace the current VAR offside system.

Earlier this year Fifa’s head of global football development Arsene Wenger gave his backing to the automated offside technology. And two weeks ago he said at the 2022 World Cup officials will be able to make “very quick” offside decisions. 

“There is a good chance that the offside will be automated at the 2022 World Cup,” the former Arsenal manager said. “I am bound to secrecy, but this will be the next of the big developments in refereeing.”

Referees’ chiefs are also confident that the technology could be implemented in the Premier League by the start of the 2023-2024 season, the Daily Mail reported. 

How would it work?

Hawk-Eye will have 12 cameras around the pitch and artificial intelligence will monitor 29 points on each player’s body, using a special “skeletal player tracking system”, the Times explained. Within 0.5 seconds, algorithms calculate if a player is offside and Hawk-Eye will send the information to the video assistant referee before a final decision is made. 

Offside: should we have it at all? 

Offside is one of the most fundamental rules of football, said The Sun. But at times it can be the “most controversial” ruling as it can “change the course of a club or country’s fortunes with the raising or not of an assistant referee’s flag”.

The rule has been “adapted and changed since the game’s inception”, said Adam Powley on The Conversation. However, there remains the basic question: why is offside needed at all?

Dutch legend Marco van Basten is one person keen to see the offside rule scrapped and he believes football should follow hockey. “I am still very curious about the offside rule because I am convinced that it is not a good rule,” he told Sky Sports in March. “At least I would like to trial it to show that football is also possible without the offside rule. I am convinced that football would be better without it.”

Van Basten, who first campaigned for its removal in his role as Fifa technical director from 2016 to 2018, said work needs to be done to make football “more spectacular, more interesting, more exciting”. He still wants to have that conversation over offside, but very few want to have it with him, Sky Sports reported. 

As Powley notes on The Conversation, Van Basten’s critics counter that by scrapping the offside rule it would lead to “chaos” and the “chronic goal hanging that spooked the original lawmakers of the 19th century”.

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