The Almighty Ball in World Cup Qatar 2022

The World Cup 2022 in Qatar will be the most technological so far. Apart from introducing new features, especially with the new Al Rihla ball, the already-known technologies will have more autonomy than before, such as VAR.
Let’s see how these novelties will change the game and if they have the possibility of improving football long-term.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Digital ball Qatar 2022

Source: FiveThirtyEight

What’s New in the Adidas Al Rihla Ball?  

FIFA’s official partner Adidas came up with an undoubtedly original idea for this year’s ball. Their priorities were definitely to implement this year’s buzzwords – technology, IoT, AI, and machine learning, but at the same time to include sustainability and upcycling. 

Now, were these trends used for a purpose and how were they justified? 

The ball is designed as an homage to Qatar’s architecture, national flag, and traditional boats, while the name itself translates as ‘Journey’. The main feature of this ball is its lightness and speed. More precisely, “the highest level of accuracy” when compared to previous balls. 

Moreover, it’s made from water-based inks and glues only, whereas 1% of all sales will go to the Common Goal movement. The price on the official Adidas Shop varies from $20 to $170. 

But that’s not the reason why there’s hype around Al Rihla’s ball. Let’s jump into the tech characteristics of the design. 

Technologies Used in World Cup Qatar 2022    

Al Rihla has 20 leather panels that surround the Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) sensor used for capturing all details about when the ball is struck. This sensor is placed at the center of the ball and sends data to the video operation room 500 times per second. Additionally, Al Rihla has an in-built battery and uses electrostatic induction for charging, which means there’s no need to actually touch the object. 

The ball is functional only when paired with 12 stadium cameras that are also capturing data. Collected information is then available to referees, their assistants and team managers for better insight and accurate decision-making. 

Moreover, managers will not only have data about their team but the opponent’s as well, which will help them analyze and prepare for future games. 

Now, this is not the only function of the ball. All gathered data complements the main technologies that are taking place in Qatar 2022: 

  1. Semi-Automated Offside Technology 
  2. Video Assistant Referee (VAR) 
  3. Goal Line Technology 

Apart from these three, which represent the core of every match played in Qatar this year, additional technologies are introduced, such as connected ball technology, limb-tracking technology, facial recognition, and others. All of them are combined to create a so-called Football Data Ecosystem. 

Al Rihla Adidas soccer

Photo Illustration: Freepik

What’s more, FIFA is not relying only on their own experts, quite the contrary. For example, MIT Sports Lab analyzes and validates all collected data, whereas limb-tracking technology is assigned to TRACK at Victoria University for scientific validation. Multi-camera tracking is provided by a research team at ETH Zurich. 

These expert teams are there to ensure high-quality, real-time, verified data, and therefore eliminate all suspicions and corruption. 

Semi-Automated Offside Technology   

To better understand the mightiness of the ball, we need to explain how it works in relation to the semi-automated offside technology. In short, the aim of this tool is to automatically provide an offside alert. 

That is achieved by the ball detecting the kick point and the offside position, with the help of dedicated cameras. They are keeping track of the ball, and up to 29 data points of each individual player, 50 times per second, calculating their exact position on the pitch. This will help match officials to make accurate decisions in less time. 

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Semi-automated offside technology is the culmination of three years of dedicated research and testing to provide the very best for the teams, players and fans. FIFA is committed to harnessing technology to improve the game of football at all levels, and the use of semi-automated offside technology at the FIFA World Cup in 2022 is the clearest possible evidence.

However, the data is not automatically forwarded to the referee. Video match officials located in the video room first need to validate and therefore manually check the proposed decision. 

After being informed by video match officials, the referee needs to confirm the proposed decision as well. Only then is the 3D animation created that perfectly captures the position of the players at the given moment. This animation is available to the spectators in the stadium but to broadcast partners as well. 

In other words, semi-automated offside technology is now paired with the connected ball technology. Although this workflow has previously been tested live at FIFA tournaments, including the FIFA Arab Cup 2021™ and the FIFA Club World Cup 2021™, it was only used as support. But this year, she received greater autonomy. 

How are these Technologies Improving Football?  

FIFA has been closely working with the Working Group for Innovation Excellence and technology providers for the past few years and is eager to introduce even more technology tools in the future. But it’s not only their innovation that has led to introducing technology in football worldwide, and especially large-scale matches. 

Referee errors have been considered a part of the game for as long as we can remember, and that was the main reason why VAR was introduced in 2018. By the words of Ilan Tamir from Ariel University in Israel, VAR completes a moral revolution in the evolution of the sport as a whole. 

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This technology enables an improvement in the sport’s professional standards and its public image and prestige, and especially its moral standards – Fair play. Furthermore, the introduction of this technology makes it possible to discover additional weaknesses.

In his research paper published by Frontiers, he underlined that at least two World Cup finals were decided by controversial decisions of the referees: 

  • 1966 in London, England VS West Germany; 
  • 1974 in Munich, West Germany VS Holland. 

A journalist by day and a podcaster by night. She's not writing to impress but to be understood.

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