Football (Soccer) is a dynamic sport. One main referee, two assistant referees and additional technical ones did not suffice. Historically, they distorted the outcome of numerous matches, and they made many controversial decisions that started a life of its own. The most famous ones include Maradona’s “Hand of God Goal” or Geoff Hurst’s “Phantom Goal.”
Over the years, as broadcasts’ quality improved, and the tech moved forward overall, football fans across the world started to demand something changed. All those who followed the matches were increasingly tired of frequent referee mistakes. On the other hand, match officials felt the pressure as well; they are only humans, after all. Tech was there that could help them, but for a long time they could only dream about using it.
As the deciding phase of the World Cup 2022 is about to start, we have prepared an article, discussing how innovations are used in football and beyond.
Not everybody knows that football is far from what it used to be.
The history of football is a long and varied one, with a number of innovations being made over the centuries. Some of the earliest changes to the game were instituted in England during the 1800s. One of the most notable changes was the introduction of a formal set of rules, which were published in 1863 by Ebenezer Cobb Morley, who is often referred to as "the father of football". This set of rules included such things as allowing players to catch and throw the ball, limiting the number of players on each side, and establishing a tagging system for tackling opponents.
Other early innovations in football included introducing goalkeepers and free kicks. All hHandling of the ball was prohibited in 1870, while free kicks were first introduced in 1878. Free kicks were awarded for foul play, such as tripping or pushing an opponent, and this quickly became an important part of football strategy. Other innovations from this period include introducing penalty areas and penalty kicks, as well as creating offside rules to prevent attacking players from getting too close to their opponents' goal.
The XX century has seen numerous innovations in the sport of football, as well, many of which have revolutionized the way the game is played. The introduction of substitutes and substitutions has made the game more dynamic and allowed teams to adjust their tactics mid-game. In 1925 the rules of the offside were rewritten. Per Britannica.com,
Previously, an attacking player (i.e., one in the opponent’s half of the playing field) was offside if, when the ball was “played” to him, fewer than three opposing players were between him and the goal. The rule change, which reduced the required number of intervening players to two, was effective in promoting more goals.
Recently, football has seen the highest number of innovations it received for a long, long time.
We all remember old broadcasts. We marvel... how bad the video quality used to be. Compare a match recording from the 1980s with the USA vs Wales, or Canada vs Croatia. Alphonso Davies' brilliant goal against Croatia would have looked much worse, if no progress in camera tech was made.
Ever since World Cup 2018, match officials use the high quality footage to guide the main referee. The tech is called Video Assistant Referee (VAR). VAR is an advanced refereeing technology that is being used in football to assist match officials in making decisions more accurately. VAR utilizes a combination of video replays, audio communication and other technology to provide referees with a range of crucial information. Importantly, It has been widely adopted by many professional leagues and competitions around the world, including the FIFA World Cup, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, Premier League and Major League Soccer. In 2018's Soccer Tournament, 455 incidents were checked, and main referees used video reviews 20 times. In 2022, the system is also in use, and sees active use.
VAR allows referees to review certain decisions during a match using video footage from multiple angles. This can help to identify if an incident was offside, if an infringement occurred inside or outside the penalty area, or if there was any contact between players during a challenge.
Watch the video below to see how VAR works in MLS and in the World Cup.
The introduction of VAR has had a significant impact on the game of football, as it has allowed referees to make more accurate decisions and ensure fair play for all participants. It has been credited for helping reduce errors in decision-making, leading to fairer outcomes for teams in decisive moments. We no longer have to wonder how the match would have ended if the main referee saw what we saw during a broadcast.
Another innovation is the new match ball, and the new tracking system used in this year’s World Cup. The 2022 tournament will be utilizing a ball-tracking mechanism for the first time ever. The ball includes both an ultra-wideband (UWB) sensor and an inertial measurement unit (IMU) sensor in order to collect data in real time.
Additionally, twelve Hawk-Eye cameras are installed around the stadium to track both the ball and each player 50 times per second. Twenty-nine separate points of the body are tracked for players, including limbs. This data is then sent to the central computer and analyzed by artificial intelligence software to generate automated offside alerts that can then be confirmed by video match officials.
You would think that the introduction of this cutting-edge tech would have a large impact on the feel of the ball. You couldn’t be more wrong. The system inside the match ball weighs only 14 grams (just under 0.5 ounces). Moreover, there were tests with clubs from all over Europe to see if players could tell the difference between old-school, and cutting-edge ball. Turns out, sportspeople couldn’t tell which one included sensors, and which one did not.
All the data gathered from the systems are then analyzed by the AI in real-time to generate reports. They then are analyzed and verified by match officials to see whether there was an offside or not. No more dubious goals, where assistant referees couldn’t tell whether the goal was scored correctly or not.
We highlighted how football is changing with the introduction of new technologies to make the game fairer, more accurate and more entertaining. From VAR to Hawk-Eye camera systems, to a new match ball with sensors inside – football will never be the same.
Innovations change more than just football. New tech comes out over the years, which has the potential to change our lives for the better:
If you would like to talk about applying innovations in your company’s products, do not hesitate to drop us a line.