In Qatar, the kick-off has just taken place for a 2022 World Cup soccer tournament unlike any other. In addition to the many controversies and criticisms that accompany the event, this 22nd edition of the World Cup marks a turning point in history.

This is the first World Cup to be held in winter, the first to be held in an Arab Gulf state and the first edition to involve a whole armada of new technologies. The aim is to bring soccer into "modernity" without it losing its culture and traditions. The case is complex and soccer fans are far from tuning their violins on this thorny issue.

World Cup and technology
Image: Reproduction

Technology and the World Cup

In recent years, the introduction of video assistant refereeing (or VAR) has caused a lot of ink to flow among enthusiasts. Supposed to improve fairness and justice, it quickly received criticism that disputes the effectiveness of this technology. While some feel nostalgic for the soccer of the past, this World Cup confirms that technology is playing an increasingly important role in this sport.

For its World Cup, Qatar has also spent generously by shelling out 220 billion dollars, according to estimates by Front Office Sport. An astronomical amount to build infrastructure and offer cutting-edge technologies.

A connected ball

Already mentioned in our columns, the connected ball is one of the novelties of the 2022 World Cup. The official ball, offered by Adidas, features an inertial measurement unit sensor that registers its position 500 times per second. This balloon like no other can measure speed or orientation, using a rechargeable battery. It also helps referees by sending the data collected to FIFA officials, allowing them to better judge offside and disputes over throw-ins.

A concentrate of technology that Adidas has in store for FIFA. The "Al Rihla" ball will not be marketed by the brand. In the same spirit, crampons and connected shirts - covered in sensors - have been under development for several years. They provide access to more and more statistics, which are then aggregated and analyzed. GPS, trackers and other drones to follow players' training and movements are becoming commonplace. In addition to data, the use of technology aims to prevent and avoid sports injuries.

The semi-automatic impediment

The technological transformation of soccer requires better offside detection. This is where the semi-automated offside comes in, which made its debut this year in the European Champions Cup. This new video assistance to refereeing (VAR) is called SAOT (for Semi-Automated Offside Technology or semi-automated offside) and comes to facilitate the detection of offside; without, however, taking the decision instead of the refereeing body. An additional aid, therefore, with 12 cameras positioned under the roof of the stadium. 

They check up to 29 data points - such as hands, feet or head - 50 times per second. The data collected by the ball, which we mentioned earlier, will also be available to the VAR assistants. It allows very precise detection of the exact moment the ball is played.

The aim is to have a more effective eye than the human eye, capable of checking and reacting quickly in the event of offside. As a reminder, a player is in an offside position if any part of his head, torso or legs is in the opponent's half of the pitch (not including the center line) and closest to the goal line. penultimate opponent.

Proud of its technology, FIFA explains on its website: "By combining data from the ball and the players, and using an artificial intelligence system, the new technology automatically sends an offside alert to the video referees whenever the ball is received by an attacker who was in an illegal position when the ball was played by a teammate." 

On the spectators' side, they see a 3D animation "precisely detailing the position of the players' limbs when the ball was played". This 3D animation is shown on the stadium's giant screens and made available to broadcasters.

A World Cup under surveillance

The game is not the only one in this World Cup to be closely monitored. With 15,000 biometric cameras and advanced algorithmic techniques, Qatar is pushing the boundaries when it comes to surveillance technologies. The subject is divisive and while many worry about a technological drift, Niyas Abdulrahiman replies that what we see in Qatar is the standard future of sporting events. Head of event technology, he said: "What you see here is the future of stadium operations. A new normal, a new trend in venue operations, this is Qatar's contribution to the world of sport.

Moreover, this monitoring is not limited to the various stages. They take place at certain strategic locations (stations, streets near the stadiums, etc.) while drones are used to protect the stadiums. Note that it would be wrong to think that these strict measures are limited to a sporting event organized in Qatar. 

A controversial technology that will not be used during the 2024 Paris Olympics, announces Le Parisien. However, the subject is likely to come up again very quickly in the next few years.

Air-conditioned stadiums, the controversial idea of "Dr Cool"

Among the controversies surrounding this 22nd edition of the World Cup is the issue of air conditioning in stadiums. The subject is obviously being reacted to when Qatar decided to offer air conditioning in open-air stadiums. Ecological nonsense that has received criticism ever since the country was awarded the organization of the sporting event.

This air conditioning is there to cope with the extreme temperatures experienced by the country. Faced with the risk of having a competition in the summer with a thermometer that could reach 50 degrees, the 2022 World Cup has been postponed until winter. Temperatures are milder, but seven of the emirate's eight stadiums can still count on air conditioning. Everyone will have their say on the matter and Saud Abdulaziz Abdul Ghani believes that it is destined to become "the norm".

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November 28, 2022