GPS tracking in football does not only monitor players’ performance and work, but it also involves the tracking of the game ball itself. There is not too much of a point if the ball is independently tracked. The main for tracking the ball in conjunction with players is to answer a concept that has been subject to much controversy over the years: the offside rule. Errors when judging an offside position are very frequent in football. In the last years, several scientific papers have tried to explain the reasons why referees and assistant referees misjudge an offside position. It is thought to be caused by a human error. The offside rule in football has to be applied in real time, in zero milliseconds, in the precise moment when the ball is being passed.
Football has adopted the use of video replays to provide referees with a second opinion on most aspects of the game, but not yet “offside positions” – the FIFA World Cup 2010 only used ten video cameras, not enough to guarantee coverage of all possible passing angles. Several games have ended in controversy, where a scoring play has been deemed acceptable by a referee who failed to spot an illegal pass made in plain view of a section of the crowd. Some of football’s most remarkable recent human errors have taken place in the last world cup in the game opposing Germany and England – England fans still cannot forgive the referee who failed to award their team a point after Frank Lampard’s shot on goal bounced off the cross bar and into the goal before spinning back out onto the field. Despite this recent controversy, FIFA maintains an adamant stance against any form of assistance which, it fears, would corrupt the beautiful game.
Unfortunately to this date, there is still no technology ready for use that would fulfil FIFA’s criteria. A number of companies have been working hard to fill this specific gap in the game. The idea was unknowingly mocked by Google Australia in an April fool hoax in 2009. However, several companies are currently developing technological solutions that would track both players and ball in conjunction.
A company in Melbourne, Catapult Sports, offers training balls embedded with a tiny GPS receiver the size of a small coin. It measures the distance of kicks and passing patterns. Combining this with data gleaned from players’ devices, Catapult believes it is possible to quantify facets of the game which do not show on the scoreboard and have previously only been evident through painstaking video analysis, like which players are better at reading patterns in play, positioning themselves close to the action, or anticipating passes. However, it does lack its bro-mounted cousin’s fancy sensors, and does not fully meet FIFA’s criteria.
GPSports is currently developing an integrated alert system to send a beep to the referee’s earpiece within a quarter of a second of the ball going out of play, passing between goal posts or, offside positions. Mr. Hawes says the ball’s location can be determined to within one centimetre, and expects to test the technology against FIFA’s criteria early 2012.
- Oudejans RR, Verheijen R, Bakker FC, Gerrits JC, Steinbruckner M, Beek PJ. Errors in judging 'offside' in football. Nature. 2000 Mar 2;404(6773):33
- Oudejans, R.R.D., Bakker, F.C., Verheijen, R., Steinbrückner, M., Gerrits, J.C., Beek, P.J. (2005). How position and motion of expert assistant referees in soccer relate to the quality of their offside judgements during actual match play. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 36, 3-21