The introduction of Semi-Automated Offside Technology (SAOT) in the UEFA Champions League group stage, clarified offside guidelines and instructions to protect football’s image mark the start of the 2022/23 season for Europe’s top referees.
The match officials head into a packed season of European assignments with a clarion call from UEFA chief refereeing officer Roberto Rosetti to stay focused, act firmly and consistently against poor conduct on the field, and give everything in the pursuit of the excellence that has earned Europe’s referees their impressive reputation.
Semi-Automated Offside Technology – ‘Enhancing the flow of the game’
Semi-Automated Offside Technology (SAOT), used officially for the first time at the recent UEFA Super Cup match between Real Madrid and Eintracht Frankfurt in Helsinki, enables video assistant referee (VAR) teams to determine offside situations quickly and more accurately – “enhancing the flow of the game and the consistency of the decisions,” said Rosetti.
The new system will operate thanks to specialised cameras which are able to track 29 different body points per player, and has been tested thoroughly since 2020 in, among others, last season’s Champions League and the entire UEFA Women’s EURO finals this summer.
“Even if VAR and semi-automated technology were not needed to change any offside decisions during the match [in Helsinki], the system worked perfectly,” he added.
SAOT will be deployed from the start of the Champions League group stage next week.
Rosetti said that UEFA was ‘very proud’ to be officially introducing the system in its premium club competition. “For the good of the game and the good of refereeing, UEFA always wants to use the best technology available,” he said. “UEFA is always looking for new technological solutions to improve the game and support the work of the referees.
“We strongly believe in this project. Semi-automated offside technology will further improve VAR, which we have successfully implemented over the last years in our competitions.”
Rosetti emphasised that the VAR system, introduced to help referees in the decision-making process, would continue to prove its worth this season. “It’s clear that VAR is no longer just a project,” he explained. “It’s now an important and established part of football. While referees remain the obvious priority, the system is there to provide crucial assistance to the match officials in reaching decisions.”
IFAB clarifies offside ‘deliberate play/deflection’ guidelines
Following a number of high-profile situations and based on the expectation that a player who is clearly in an offside position should not become ‘onside’ on all occasions when an opponent moves and touches the ball, football’s lawmakers, the International Football Association Board (IFAB), after discussions with football stakeholders – including UEFA – have clarified the guidelines for distinguishing between ‘deliberate play’ and ‘deflection’.
No change to Law 11 (Offside) in this season’s Laws of the Game is required but, to reflect football’s expectation, the guidelines for distinguishing between ‘deliberate play’ and ‘deflection’ have been made clearer.
“This is an important and well-managed clarification made by IFAB with our full support,” said Rosetti. “It’s for the benefit of football, and 100% more fair and in the spirit of the game.”
UEFA referees urged to protect football’s image
UEFA’s referees enter the 2022/23 campaign with clear instructions to crack down firmly on instances of mobbing of referees, mass confrontation between players and dissent by players and coaches.
“We don’t want to see these things in the game,” Rosetti said. “We are determined to protect the image of football, and we consider certain types of behaviour on the field and on the benches to be unacceptable.”
Players who attempt to deceive referees through acts of simulation or by over-reacting to light-contact fouls can also expect to be punished. In addition, referees are being asked to take firm sanctions in situations where players try to dupe referees into giving opposing players red or yellow cards.
“When a player tries to get another player punished, it’s unfair for football,” Rosetti emphasised. “It represents unfair conduct by players against their colleagues – a bad example of disrespectful behaviour.”
Referees are being urged to show ‘fingertip feeling’ in handling matches in European club and national team competitions over the coming season. “At this level, there are particular key match-changing moments that can happen in a split-second,” Rosetti reflected. “It’s crucial for the referees to be able to read the game and understand the spirit of play in these situations – they have to be ready to react, take a decision in whichever way is necessary and, most importantly, be consistent.”
Referees – true football ambassadors
Match officials have been reminded of their duty to act as ambassadors for UEFA on their assignments across Europe. “Their attitude must be 100% exemplary and responsible from the second they receive their appointment,” Rosetti insisted. “They’re representatives of UEFA, their national associations – and football.”
At the European referees’ recent summer course, Rosetti sent the match officials into the 2022/23 season with clear words of encouragement and motivation.
“I started and finished the course with a sentence: ‘You should never forget where you come from.’ We want our officials to stay humble, keep their feet on the ground, work hard, be disciplined, focus on targets, and be strong and respectful.
“The next match is the most important one for a referee, it’s the best approach in our tough job,” Rosetti concluded. “And if referees are exhausted at the end of their matches, they can feel satisfied, because it will prove that they have given everything to their task.”