Kicking into the Future: Will Tech Revolutionise Euro 2024?

Kicking into the Future: Will Tech Revolutionise Euro 2024?

As Euro 2024 kicked off this summer, is cutting-edge technology such as AI, VAR and advanced analytics revolutionising the tournament for the better, or are they altering the essence of the game as we know it?

Technological advancement, since the dawn of civilization, has historically been a double-edged sword, particularly when it encroaches upon the realm of traditional and revered sports.

The introduction of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology is a prime example of this dichotomy. Initially hailed as a solution to eliminate human error and ensure fair play, VAR has instead sparked heated debates amongst fans and experts alike. While its aim is to bring accuracy and fair play to the game, its implementation has often disrupted the fluidity of matches and undermined the authority of on-field referees.

This controversy has fuelled a growing sentiment of technological Luddism within the sport, with many stakeholders questioning whether the pursuit of precision is worth the cost to football’s inherent spontaneity and human touch. As Euro 2024 unfolds, the tension between technology and tradition is more palpable than ever. Coaches, players, and fans alike are grappling with the implications of VAR, debating whether these advancements are truly enhancing the game or eroding its very essence.

Recent Germany vs. Denmark match sparks VAR debates. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

The recent match between Denmark and Germany exemplified the contentious nature of VAR’s influence. Denmark, leading 1-0, saw their advantage overturned by VAR decisions that ruled out a goal for offside and awarded Germany a penalty for handball. The Danish team, along with coach Kasper Hjulmand, voiced frustration at how technology abruptly altered the course of the game.

In my opinion this is not how football is supposed to be,” protested Hjulmand, in a statement to Associated Press.

Such incidents highlight the broader concern that while VAR aims to achieve fairness, its application risks diluting the natural flow and spontaneity that define the sport’s appeal to millions worldwide. Critics of the technology argue that VAR has strayed far from FIFA’s original vision for its implementation.

Amidst the VAR debate, another artificial intelligence-enabled technological advancement has entered the realm of football promising greater fairness and efficiency in decision-making: the Semi-Automated Offside Technology.

The Semi-Automated Offside Technology

SAOT is leveraging limb and ball tracking data to deliver offside calls with greater accuracy and precision. (Image: UEFA.)

Making its competitive debut in the 2022 Qatar World Cup, the Semi-Automated Offside Technology is aiding referees make critical decisions that alter the course of the game. 

At its core, the SAOT is a sophisticated system bringing artificial intelligence, 3D data visualisation and multi-camera tracking to consolidate the fairness of offside calls with unprecedented precision. 

By blending limb and ball tracking data with the power of artificial intelligence, SAOT takes the guesswork out of offside calls, providing an automated alert to the video match officials whenever an attacker is in an offside position at the moment the ball is played. 

But that’s not all—before the on-field referee gets the final word, the video officials do a quick manual check of the automatically selected kick point and offside line, all based on precise limb positions. This whole process happens in mere seconds, making offside decisions faster and more accurate than ever before.

Globally, an offside check by the traditional VAR takes about 70 seconds. With SAOT, instead of painstakingly drawing lines and picking the exact kick point, video officials just need to give a quick visual inspection to confirm the system’s suggestion. This means offside calls can now be made in just a few seconds, dramatically boosting the game’s efficiency.

Connecting the Dots: How Connected Ball Technology Unifies VAR and SAOT

(Image: Thomson Reuters)

The debut of Adidas’s revolutionary connected ball technology at Euro 2024 signifies a groundbreaking moment for the tournament. The technology ensures real-time transmission of highly accurate ball data directly to VAR officials, revolutionizing the decision-making process on the field. 

By seamlessly integrating player position data with sophisticated AI algorithms, it enhances the capabilities of UEFA’s semi-automated offside technology (SAOT). This integration empowers officials to make faster and more precise judgments during critical match moments, ultimately aiming to uphold fairness and accuracy in football officiating like never before.

With connected ball technology, every kick and movement of the ball is tracked in real-time. This data is sent to the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) officials instantly. They combine this information with where players are on the field, using computers to help them decide if someone was offside when a pass was made.

The Double-Edged Sword

As technology further integrates into competitive sports with the promise of enhanced efficiency and precision, recent controversies such as the disallowed goal in the Netherlands-France match and the decisions involving Romelu Lukaku remind us of the challenges of implementing our evolved tools into this sphere.

Football, perhaps more than any other sport, grapples with balancing tradition and technological advancement, prioritising fair play and integrity of the game amidst the introduction of tools that promise to enhance the experience. The pressing question beckons itself: How can the sport embrace tradition while navigating the pitfalls of embracing modernity?

Related articles