Technical development
Around FIFA

Technical development­

9 min. reading time

In 2021, FIFA took significant steps in its mission to make football truly global by harnessing technology, accelerating the growth of women’s football, increasing global competitiveness and ensuring the success of its iconic tournaments.

Semi-automated offside trials continue­

Trials of semi-automated offside technology continued throughout 2021, culminating in tests at the FIFA Arab Cup 2021 in November and December. Speaking to the Living Football show, Pierluigi Collina, chairperson of the FIFA Referees Committee, described the tests as “the most important so far”.

One of the goals of the FIFA President’s Vision 2020-2023 is to harness technology in football to meet the needs of the modern game. Tests have been ongoing to optimise the technology and Collina took time out to explain the benefits for match officials and how it would potentially be implemented.

Technology is very important and useful in both the pre-match preparation and the decision-making process during matches.
Pierluigi Collina
Chairperson of the FIFA Referees Committee

“Technology is very important and useful in both the pre-match preparation and the decision-making process during matches,” he said. “In an offside incident, the decision is made after having analysed not only the players’ position but also, their involvement in the move. Technology – today or tomorrow – can draw a line but the assessment of an interference with play or with an opponent remains in the referee’s hands.”

At the tournament, cameras were installed under the roof of each stadium. The limb-tracking data extracted from the video was then sent to the operations room and the calculated offside line and detected kick point were provided to the replay operator almost in real time. The replay operator was then able to show the information immediately to the assistant VAR at a dedicated offside station, where it could be instantly validated and confirmed.

The future of performance analytics­

A team of experts was commissioned to analyse every player for every second of every game of the FIFA Arab Cup 2021 in a groundbreaking first that, it is hoped, will lead to a swathe of new performance insights, all in line with FIFA’s vision of increasing global competitiveness through technology.

Launched in late November 2021, the new FIFA Football Language had been over two years in the making. The system provides an open resource for coaches and players all across the world, aligning technical expertise and developing all levels of the game. These insights will also be used at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 to better understand trends at the very top of the game.

The work reflects the vision of Arsène Wenger, FIFA Chief of Global Football Development, whose vision is for technical observations and football data analytics to be used together to increase and develop the understanding of the game and improve the fan experience.

“The FIFA Football Language is the alphabet of data collection and it helps us to make conclusions about, and better understand, what’s happening on the football pitch,” said Wenger.

The conclusions, implementable actions, recommendations and insights will then be distributed to technical experts through various programmes or platforms, such as the new FIFA Training Centre, an online football academy.

Referee and video match official candidates gather again­

After almost two years of online gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the first physical refereeing seminar was able to be delivered in October 2021.

In attendance for the seminar in Doha, Qatar, were 20 candidates for referee roles and five for video match official roles. The group – the majority of whom were attending a FIFA refereeing seminar for the first time – were made up of attendees from the AFC, CAF, Concacaf and UEFA.

The five-day seminar represented the FIFA Refereeing Subdivision’s first opportunity to assess the new candidates for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023, which is due to take place from 20 July to 20 August 2023.

Candidates were put through their paces both in the classroom and on the training pitch each day and, thanks to the help of 40 players provided by the Qatar Football Association, it was possible to replicate match situations in preparation for the 2023 tournament.

The seminar was led by Kari Seitz, FIFA’s Head of Refereeing, Women, and the only person to officiate at four FIFA Women’s World Cups. Each day began in the classroom, with attendees asked to participate in various exercises and assessments analysing video footage.

FIFA is doing something great in terms of promoting women’s football in general. The attention given to promoting women’s football is enormous. Refereeing is part of football, so we are also doing everything to improve the quality of refereeing in women’s competitions.
Pierluigi Collina
Chairperson of the FIFA Referees Committee

Give every talent a chance­

In May 2021, FIFA published its findings following a study of the global talent development ecosystem. The groundbreaking report delivered the message that every talented player deserves a chance to be identified and developed.

The 14-month-long project, which was launched in January 2020 by FIFA’s Technical Development team, analysed youth football and talent development practices and structures around the world. The data gathered during that time was compiled into a global report on the state and direction of talent development as well as a dedicated country report for each of the 205 FIFA member associations that took part.

The report found that a great number of talented players go undiscovered due to a number of factors, including inadequate planning, quality of education, infrastructure and financial resources to train youngsters.

It also led to a series of calls to action, with practical steps towards improvement for member associations and other stakeholders involved in the development of young players developed and cascaded accordingly.

Our immediate target is that every member association should reach its full potential to have the strongest possible national team. A long-term plan for talent development is essential for success.
Arsène Wenger
FIFA Chief of Global Football Development

Standardising VAR­

In August 2021, the FIFA Quality Programme team hosted a test event in Stockholm for VAR system providers from Europe and the USA to formally certify their systems.

Following its successful implementation at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ and the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™, the use of video assistant referees has rapidly accelerated. At the time of publication, over 100 competitions had used or were using the technology to provide their referees with a support tool in potentially game-changing situations.

The FIFA Quality Programme is a vital resource for competition organisers who require guidance on the technical quality of different VAR systems in order for the new technologies that FIFA, and football, are embracing to be implemented consistently around the world.

Using VAR technology in games is still a complicated operation involving numerous computers, servers, screens and cables. While the development of smaller systems is progressing and the first tests using VAR Light systems are under way, the focus of the FIFA Quality Programme’s tests is to check the interaction of the overall set-up and the performance of the system in three main areas: latency, synchronicity and video quality.

Groundbreaking female player health study­

In September 2021, in collaboration with sports bioanalytics company Orreco and Western Sydney University, FIFA announced it would be investing in female player health and performance research to build better future sports science systems.

In line with the FIFA President’s Vision 2020-2023 goals of accelerating the growth of women’s football and harnessing technology in football, the initiative emphasises FIFA’s commitment to achieving a better scientific understanding of the female athlete.

Physiology, nutrition, injury patterns, sleep and recovery recommendations have all been based on research into male athletes, but this is quickly changing thanks to this partnership. The collaboration immediately got to work on bridging this knowledge gap and coming up with actionable guidelines and recommendations. The research will also help provide the evidence base needed to provide data-driven system solutions for sports science support for female football players via a fully funded PhD studentship.

Video support debuts in Lithuania­

New technological innovations were implemented at the FIFA Futsal World Cup 2021 in Lithuania as video support (VS) services were implemented throughout the September/October tournament in order to better support referees in making their decisions.

In Lithuania, the VS system comprised a review operator and a pitchside monitor that allowed referees to review specific incidents. The referees used VS when the head coach of a team (or, in their absence, a designated team official) challenged the referee’s decision in relation to four specific incident categories. These were goal/no-goal situations, penalty incidents, direct red cards and potential cases of mistaken identity.

Unlike in football, futsal referees do not have a video assistant referee (VAR) following every moment of the match on a television monitor. In futsal, referees only revert to video evidence if coaches challenge initial calls on the field of play. As in football, however, the final decision remains with the referee.

Harnessing technology – for the fans­

In June 2021, FIFA announced the launch of the Fan Experience Panel. The group, which consists of 25 football fans from around the world, will be continuously consulted on various matters relating to topics both on and off the pitch.

Representing six continents and 17 countries, the panel, which emerged as an offshoot of the FIFA Fan Movement, has been tasked with providing valuable input into the development and refinement cycle of various technology-led innovations.

It works in partnership with FIFA’s Football Technology & Innovation team and in line with The FIFA President’s Vision 2020-2023, which emphasises FIFA’s commitment to harnessing technology to improve the game and the experience of football fans.

Player data, compiled efficiently­

In response to a growing demand for more cost-efficient match analysis technologies, in January, FIFA launched a new standard within the FIFA Quality Programme for Electronic Performance and Tracking Systems to contribute to the democratisation of football technologies.

As technology evolves, the FIFA Quality Programme needs to continuously adapt to the latest innovations. One such trend that has been amplified by the circumstances of the current global pandemic is the demand for player tracking data from broadcast footage – meaning no technology or technician is required on-site to generate the data.

This new standard, referred to as “Broadcast EPTS”, assesses systems capable of generating player performance data using only broadcast footage.

FIFA has also developed a bespoke test method to validate the accuracy of such systems to be able to provide guidance to coaching staff, scouting departments, clubs, competition organisers and viewers as to the quality of the output from these software products.