World Cup ball-bots, a better VAR and Fifa’s priorities for Qatar 2022

·6-min read


The Fiver upgraded its phone the other day and downloaded the latest instant messenger service called WhatSup or something. Being socially awkward, we obviously didn’t want to do this, but Weird Uncle Fiver got angry and then frighteningly insistent that we should create a chat group to organise the family trip to Pontins in Prestatyn. He’s got a job as a big green crocodile mascot there, you see, and can swing a discount.

Once he’d added all our cousins to it, he invited all 768 members to have our say on what dates would be best for everyone. Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! After a fair bit of back and forth, we soon sorted out a weekend in August. Then he asked if anyone was interested in one of the limited number of all-inclusive wristbands for the on-site pub. Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! Such an onslaught of information was too much for our simple senses. We needed a lie down.

Related: AI-powered technology will be used to speed up VAR offside calls at World Cup

We hope officials at the Human Rights World Cup are made of sterner stuff than us. They’re going to be hit with a torrent of data sent from match balls “500 times per second” thanks to new AI-powered technology that Fifa bigwigs have signed off on. Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! Ping! Yes, Gianni Infantino has unleashed the bots in an effort to speed up VAR decisions. It’s got its own name too: Semi-automated offside technology (SAOT). Sounds well $exy doesn’t it?

Apparently SAOT is “faster and more accurate and offers better communication to fans.” And you better believe it because those words were uttered by legendary Italian whistleblower Pierluigi Collina, the chief suit of Fifa’s referees committee, who looks like he could zap any pessimists with lasers shot out of his intense, staring eyes. “It can create a new form of visualisation for supporters at home and in the ground. All tests have worked well and so [SAOT] is going into [the Human Rights] World Cup.”

The ball will have a well-clever sensor in it that transmits all this info to create a 3D map of the goalscoring action which*checks notes* will help officials come to an offside decision in around 25 seconds, instead of the current VAR average of 70. Collina wasn’t forthcoming on what happens if the sensor gets rattled out of position by a powerful punt from Harry Maguire. Nor did he have much to say on how much time and money had been spent on this advancement, which could go haywire if technology goes rogue and develops bias towards one nation or another as top lads on Twitter will no doubt accuse it of doing.

And lord knows what the new Premier League VAR overlord, Mike Dean, will do with it if it gets rolled out globally (to leagues that can afford it). The world might need Will Smith to save us if Dean uses the AI to assist in a power grab. But what The Fiver finds most interesting about all of this is how Fifa found the time and resources to “improve” VAR with AI ball-bots, yet couldn’t use its heft to get Qatari authorities to guarantee that LGBTQ+ fans would be safe at the HRWC. Priorities, eh?


“She makes me maybe look better than I am at times. It’s not just the player on the pitch, it’s the person off it as well. Ellen’s a top player and someone I’ve always looked up to. She’s a fantastic role model” – England’s rising star, Lauren Hemp, gets her chat on with Suzy Wrack about her partnership with Ellen White for club and country.

Ellen White and Lauren Hemp.
City’s dynamic duo, Ellen White and Lauren Hemp. Photograph: John Walton/PA


A Football Weekly special: how to tackle LGBTQ+ discrimination in the game.


It’s the new Women’s Football Weekly podcast. Get more details here.


“Re: Romelu Lukaku never leaving home in England (Thursday’s Fiver). So that’s why he never bothered to turn up for Chelsea” – Nigel Sanders (and 1,056 others).

“The Crusty the Pie vacancy (Thursday’s Quote of the Day) made me think that if The Fiver ever had a mascot, it would be something like Terry the Tin, who would stumble around the pitch and give Glasgow handshakes to anyone who came within striking distance” – Gerry Rickard.

“For some bizarre reason I found myself reading back through old Fiver emails – thrill seeker, I know – and realised that the subject of merch was never properly addressed. So here’s my first will-this-do attempt” – Simon Mazier.

Send your letters to And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our letter o’ the day is … Simon Mazier, who wins a limited edition Fiver t-shirt copy of A Woman’s Game, by Suzy Wrack.


Breaking news! Just as we were heading to the pub, flicking Vs behind The Man’s back as we went, Liverpool go and announce that Mo Salah has signed a new contract.

Spurs have confirmed the signing of pyro-bothering Richarlison from Everton for a fee that could rise to £60m if he’s any good there.

It’ll be even harder for Big Website’s livebloggers to tell which channel is showing what match in 2024 after Amazon and the Beeb broke BT Sport’s stranglehold on showing Big Cup.

Manchester City have signed Arminia Bielefeld goalkeeper Stefan Ortega as Ederson’s backup, with Zack Steffen likely to be sent out on loan so he can try to get that Liverpool howler out of his system at another club – possibly Middlesbrough.

Jota has credited the Queen’s Celtic’s top, top partying for helping him to make up his mind about joining the club permanently from Benfica. “Trophy Day was amazing,” he trilled. “Once we got to the celebrations, everyone just entered in a pure state of freedom.”

And Jorge Sampaoli has strutted through the Door Marked Do One at Marseille, amid reports of a rift over summer recruitment. In purely coincidental news, Mattéo Guendouzi has completed his permanent move from Arsenal today.


Here are eight up-and-coming stars who can light up Women’s Euro 2022. Go on, count them!

Watford LGBTQ+ groups scored a victory by getting the club’s friendly against Qatar called off but there is still a long way to go to tackle homophobia in the game, writes Max Rushden.

More fresh Euro 2022 team guides: can the Netherlands retain their title despite Sarina Wiegman’s departure? And are Portugal this tournament’s Denmark ‘92?

And if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!


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