The Premier League will continue to monitor the use of semi-automated offside technology (SOAT) before making a call on whether to integrate it into the competition next season.
The technology is used in the UEFA Champions League and Serie A, as well as at most recent men’s and women’s World Cups. It will also be included at December’s FIFA Club World Cup in Saudi Arabia featuring Manchester City.
The SOAT system means no need to draw or activate lines, instead, a virtual line is generated automatically. It accurately identifies skeletal data points — including head, toes, upper arm and knees — on multiple players simultaneously. Ball-tracking highlights where the ball is when kicked which is communicated to the VAR official via a real-time alert system.
At the International Football Association Board (IFAB) annual business meeting held in London, the FA CEO Mark Bullingham said it would come down to individual leagues to decide about adopting the technology, but outlined his support for the upgrade: “Where you’ve got a binary decision, I think to make it as quickly and accurately as possible is the way to go. There is an expectation that more top leagues around the world will bring it in from next season.”
The Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) head of referees Howard Webb confirmed that testing is taking place behind the scenes and a decision will be made as to the best way to progress. “We’re open-minded to all technologies that make us more accurate and more efficient,” he said on the most recent Match Officials Mic’d Up programme.
The system is ‘semi-automated’ because the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) is still required to validate the proposed decision before informing the on-field referee. The most high-profile mistake this season concerning offside was during Liverpool’s 2-1 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur in September, when Luiz Diaz was denied a legitimate goal after a miscommunication between the VAR officials. SOAT would aim to alleviate the situation that arose during the goal Newcastle United’s Anthony Gordon goal against Arsenal earlier this month where is was not possible to ascertain whether he was offside or not.
The system used by FIFA at World Cups included a chip implanted into the ball to improve accuracy, however, that element is not used in the Champions League. Both competitions use an Adidas ball, while the Premier League will continue to use a Nike ball until the end of the 2024-25 season before switching to Puma. UEFA and Adidas have also said the ball that will be used at next summer’s European Championship will contain new in-built technology that will help the VAR process.
It is unclear at this stage whether the Premier League would opt for a system with or without the chip, if they go ahead. Integration would involve working with Kinexon who designed the FIFA-approved ball tracking technology. The German company outline that ball sensors can “be integrated into every kind of ball” and they work “together with leading ball manufacturers.”
Serie A adopted the SOAT system in January 2023 including the chip in the ball. The Spanish football federation announced plans to adopt the system for La Liga from next season.
Could the Premier League adopt semi-automated offside technology?
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