Game-Changing Technological Innovations in the World Cup

Is football the same sport it was back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, when fans from around the world were connected by nothing but a TV screen and a passion for the game? Or did the digital age utterly change football?

We can’t deny that technological innovations like goal-line or video assistant referee (VAR) have brought about an undeniable transformation in refereeing decisions, in the way matches are played, and in the results of the games.

Had some of these existed back in the day, the history of the world’s most popular sport would be extraordinarily different. 

Let’s take a look at some of the most controversial referee decisions in past World Cups, and examine how different the fortunes (and trophy cabinets) of national teams could have been if today’s technology had been in place.

The Tech and Numbers Behind The 2022 FIFA World Cup 

3.2 billion viewers are expected to watch the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Founded by Jules Rimet in 1930, this is the 22nd edition of the event which is set to take place in Qatar from November 20 to December 18, 2022. 

32 nations will be represented at this edition of the World Cup, which has seen significant sums of money funneled into technological innovations such as connected ball tracking, semi-automated offside technology (SAOT), and cameras under the stadiums roofs, to name a few.
  • Goal-line Technology – each goal has 7 cameras pointed at it, each from a different angle, which helps determine whether the whole of the ball has crossed the goal line.
  • Video Assistant Referee (VAR) – from a centralized video operation room, a team of 4 referees review footage from 12 cameras aimed at the stadium from different angles, as well as from all FIFA host broadcasters.
  • Semi-automated Offside – 10 to 12 cameras track 29 points on each player’s body, as well as the ball, calculating their position 50 times per second.
  • FREECOOL Technology – low-energy environmentally friendly cooling system maintains the temperatures between 18-24 C (64.4-75.2 F), which keeps players and fans comfortable in the subtropical desert climate of Qatar.
  • DALI (Digital Addressable Lighting Interface) and DALI-2 Lighting – energy-efficient lighting that’s comfortable for the players and spectators alike.
  • Retractable roofs – 40,000-capacity venue are equipped with retractable roofs, which weigh around 1,600 tons, reduce the energy consumption to less than 40%, and take approximately 20 minutes to fully close.
  • Bonocle – the first-ever braille entertainment platform will make it possible for the blind community to experience the 2022 World Cup for the first time.
  • Accessible Website – The World Cup website supports the use of magnifiers, screen readers, high contrast color image descriptions, large text, font kerning, and text-to-speech software.
Image of the various technologies used in the World Cup.
From dozens of cameras to air cooling, the World Cup is powered by cutting edge technology.

VAR in Football: MVP or Benchwarmer?

The video assistant referee is an actual match official who reviews match events, as well as decisions made by the referee, like the validity of a penalty, goal, or red card. VAR can also be used to help the referee clarify the identity of the player who is actually responsible for a fault.

Although recently introduced to World Cup matches, VAR has already impacted the game in a significant manner.

Roughly 142 seconds pass between the teams’ call for VAR and the referee’s decision based on the information he receives on-screen and in his headphones. This is a major change in the distribution of match time, as it decreases the necessary time for contestation and provides for a better balance in the additional time.

VAR’s objective is not only to correct possible errors in the match, but also to offer more information in tense game situations, when outbursts are possible both on the field and in the stands — situations when the referee might find himself alone with a difficult choice. The video assistant increases refereeing accuracy without substituting the refereeing body.

The referee has to justify his calls with what he has seen on the field. Now, he can be challenged by additional information available from VAR, which can make refs go back on their decisions. While VAR provides much-needed assistance, the system is not completely fail-safe.

Far from being unanimous, video assistance is often accused of distorting football and of being used as an excuse to change the course of a match, particularly in close games.

Due to its malfunctions, goal-line technology is also subject to interpretations. A succession of failures that do not stop at the technology, like the free kick vanishing spray that fades away at a glance. 

With or Without Technology: Which Is Best?

Technology could have altered the outcomes of many World Cup matches.

Love it or hate it, technology like VAR and goal-line now have a say in football. Fans undoubtedly remember Benzema’s goal against Honduras in 2014, which was granted by goal-line, as well as Diego Costa’s against Portugal, granted by VAR. But technology isn’t only for watching the field right now — it can also help us identify significant mistakes in the past, as demonstrated by Robben’s confession years later.

If the referee in the 2006 final had not used the camera to send off Zinedine Zidane, would France have won the World Cup? Sometimes referees wish they could free themselves from some remorse or correct past mistakes. What if Howard Webb, who regrets not having sent off Nigel de Jong for his hit on Xabi Alonso in the final, as he was not able to judge the gravity of the impact, had access to better technology at the time?

Football technology has also made it possible for participants to get closure.

How Were Things Before Football Technology?

What was happening on the field before all this technology was introduced? Did the lack of close monitoring contribute to outbursts of violence during World Cup matches in the past? Take the Italy vs. Spain match in 1994, in which defender Mauro Tassoti elbowed Luis Enrique, breaking his nose. That should have resulted in a clear penalty for the Spaniards.

Perhaps one of the most unforgettable moments is Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” moment in the 1986 World Cup against England. If that match would’ve taken place thirty years later, VAR would have canceled the goal. But if video assistance existed at the time, would Argentina have been world champions? Would Maradona still be considered one of the best players of all time?

Violence, dirty tricks, and cheating are not only severely punished thanks to technology, but have changed the very perception of football — it’s no longer enough to score and prevent the other team from doing the same. Players are now expected to behave appropriately both on the field and off the field, even on social networks! 

But for the more nostalgic, here’s a reminder of the most significant events of the World Cup which encouraged technology to get off the bench and become a bigger part of the game.

1960s football was very different from the one we see in 2022, and not just because of technology.

We should keep in mind that, despite their faults, tech innovations in football have brought more transparency to the game. They’re the reason why Rivaldo was ultimately fined 11,500 Swiss Francs by FIFA for faking an injury that led to the expulsion of Hakan Unsal in the 2002 Brazil vs. Turkey match. 

That said, journalists and football fans alike wonder whether these tech systems are bringing profound changes to a game loved by billions around the world.

Beyond the refereeing, which can always be questioned, the choice of whether or not to use video assistance comes up regularly in post-match interviews. These new technologies are also changing the way we live the game.

Emotion, spontaneity, and the celebration of goals are all impacted by the integration of VAR. Images of players celebrating their goal before it gets canceled or of players who just scored but are waiting for the video to decide have become commonplace. 

Watch the World Cup in UHD

One thing is for sure, the World Cup remains one of the most anticipated events in the sports industry. This is the second time football fans will be able to follow the World Cup in 4K on channels such as BBC, ITV, and member networks of the European Broadcasting Union. 

Out of town? Get the best VPN for streaming and follow the action in UHD as if you were back home. Protect your online privacy and keep up with all the World Cup action without forfeits.

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