Victoria University researcher Robert Aughey on football technology: “It will be an accepted part of the game very quickly”

Robert Aughey

Robert Aughey, a researcher and professor from Victoria University, has collaborated with FIFA for several years on leading-edge football technologies.

Late last year, Victoria University was confirmed as the first university in the world to be an official FIFA Research Institute, focussed on football technologies.

Among those innovations, Aughey (pictured at Sevilla FC) has collaborated on video-assistant refereeing (VAR), semi-automated offside technology and an inertial sensor that collects spatial positioning data in real-time that have played a major role in the World Cup in Qatar.

Aughey discusses how the newest and improved innovations introduced to the world game can be implemented for decision-making in the finest of margins, making it much easier and quicker. He spoke exclusively to Soccerscene regarding where the technology is sitting, how it works and what to expect.

Are there technologies planned for the following years to come in football? If so, what sort of technologies can we expect to see?

Robert Aughey: I’m not sure that there’s things specifically planned necessarily but l know that the manufacturers of current technology are always improving their products, so the semi-automated offside technology for example tracks a certain number of parts of the body using an optical tracking system and l know they are looking to greatly expand the number of parts of the body that are tracked so that will further increase the accuracy of it.

Can you briefly explain how the different technologies work?

Robert Aughey: There are a number of technologies – in the ball for example at the World Cup, they have what are called inertial sensors and it can basically measure the amount of force applied to the ball, which can be from the foot kicking it or the ball hitting the ground – or the ball not hitting Ronaldo’s head in the case of the World Cup recently. They also have gyroscopes in the ball which can measure spin rate on the ball which is something that hasn’t really come into broadcast yet, but l think it will come in soon.

The actual tracking of athletes and the determination of offside using the semi-automated offside technology that uses a number of cameras that are installed in the stadium are pretty impressive computer vision technology, to take those images and turn them into the effective location of the different parts of the body on the pitch and they do that around 50 times per second.

What has been the reaction to the different technologies that have been implemented?

Robert Aughey: I think it has been overwhelmingly positive. As the technology improves further and likewise the speed of decision-making, that it will be an accepted part of the game very quickly, like hawk-eye is in tennis of the Australian Open or LBW decision-making in cricket – it will just be a normal part of the game.

How did ball sensors identify that a goal first attributed to Cristiano Ronaldo was in fact scored by a teammate?

Robert Aughey: Because they measure the force applied to the ball, so the sensor in the middle of the ball reacts when force is applied to it and it was clearly evident in the data that there was no force applied by Ronaldo’s head, so clearly he didn’t touch it.

Why was the Japan goal allowed to stand against Spain despite video-assistant refereeing (VAR) ruling it had not crossed the line?

Robert Aughey: The goal was allowed to stand because the ball did not fully leave the field of play. The goal line camera which is used for the goal line technology clearly showed the part of the ball was still within the field of play and not fully outside the field, so the correct decision was made in the end.

How does the ball work together with cameras to determine offsides?

Robert Aughey: The thing you obviously need with offsides is that you need to know exactly when the ball was kicked. The cameras take 50 images per second but the ball is sampling information at 500 times per second so you get a much more precise timing of when the ball was actually kicked, so that the two data sets are synchronised and you can then determine offside from there.

Any chance these technologies can be wrong?

Robert Aughey: Not wrong as such, as there’s levels of precision in any measurement system including referees, so we know how accurate the systems are and if they are used within the decision-making, they can’t be wrong as such. They could fail in theory in the sense that you could fail to have the technology available, but if that were to happen then the referee just does his or her job and we move on as if the technology wasn’t there.

Victoria University has released a video on some of the technology in action, which was conducted at Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium. You can view the vision and more words from Robert Aughey here.

Assessing the path of A-League Women to become full-time

To ensure there is a deep-rooted legacy from the 2023 Women’s World Cup, the A-League Women becoming a full-time profession should be a matter of importance to develop the Australian game.

As the competition improves, the expectations on individual players increases, whereas the careers provided to them are not yet adequate for most players to financially support themselves merely through football.

Until the players are provided with full-time year-round employment structure, majority of the sportswomen are in the firing line juggling the physical and mental aspects of their commitments to football and part-time employment, of which three in five of those players work outside of football.

This topic of discussion was raised back in February during a two-day women’s football congress that was hosted by the players’ union, Professional Footballers Australia (PFA).

Under the 2021-2026 A-Leagues Collective Bargaining Agreement, the base limit was $20,608 in 2022-23 season for a 29-week contract for the ALW, with most of the players earned at or close to the minimum that season.

However, the remuneration for the past season rose to $25,000, which for the very first time it was transformed to a full home-and-away schedule, the current athletes are under contract for a 22 round regular season for 35 weeks, along with four extra weeks for finals.

Former Matilda and PFA executive member Elise Kellond-Knight expressed her opinion on this matter.

“We need aspirational leaders. We don’t need a long-term, 10-year strategy to get to full-time professionalism. Like, this is 2024. We need it tomorrow. We needed it yesterday,” she said.

“It’s important that the girls understand where we’ve come from and how much hard work we’ve had to do. Things don’t get handed to female athletes you have to stand up, you have to ask for it, you have to fight for it.

“It’s really important that we embed that philosophy in the next generation to come.”

In contrast to the A-League Men, just 15 percent had some type of job outside of their football commitments, 93 percent of those individuals worked less than 10 hours on a weekly basis.

The survey comments portray an evocative of the not so sustainable football/work/life balance the individuals have to commit to:

“I don’t want to feel like I have to work between seasons (for example: most of us do not get paid in the off season). It is a lot to juggle, especially going away for national team camps and the immense amount of traveling. I feel this weight on my shoulders from my work obligations.”

“If my work and football commitments clash, I am expected by my coach to skip work (where I get paid more and am respected more), and I am expected by my boss to skip soccer, and neither care if you suffer financially or reputation wise for it.”

According to the survey, it was made aware that all but three clubs had failed to provide players the desired two-month in advance training calendar as well as the seven day notice period, which makes matters even more complicated for those coping with various jobs to plan in advance.

The PFA admit changes such as this won’t occur overnight, generally speaking, to implement full-time professional contracts is the righteous thing to do for women players, but as the PFA report put it “should also be seen as an investment, not a cost.”

The full-time pay is such a significant goal for women’s football in this country, but the clubs can ease their path to that goal and can do a whole lot more to make sure those changes are modified sooner rather than later.

Nick Galatas on addressing the link between National Second Tier with promotion and relegation

The National Second Tier (NST) competition is building towards its expected start date of March/April 2025, but its final structure has not been settled.

While eight teams were initially announced with representation from Victoria and New South Wales, we are still yet to find out who will make up the rest of the ‘national’ component.

We will at least have an update on this around June 2024, as the Request for Proposal (RFP), Assessment & Review and Completion Phases are all completed.

Association of Australian Football Clubs (AAFC) Chairman Nick Galatas has been a vocal advocate and involved in establishing the NST from its inception, but despite the previously announced foundation clubs, there is still work to do to ensure the NST starts in the best possible shape.

At this stage, eight foundation clubs have been confirmed, but there is a push to increase the number to at least 12.

Despite 26 clubs advancing to the RFP phase, only 8 foundation clubs proved to be a major drop off from what appeared a healthy pool of teams to choose from.

“There were 26 clubs that looked to be in a great position to be selected to start in the new NST,” Galatas told Soccerscene.

“From those, it would be expected to get 12 for a kick-off in 2024 but didn’t pan out that way.”

A lack of structure around how promotion and relegation will work with the NPL does leave some uncertainty for the clubs left out of the NST. Many clubs remain eager to be part of the expected four additional teams to be added for the competition’s commencement early in 2025.

For Football Australia, consistency will need to be applied across the board about how clubs go up and down between the NST and NPL when promotion and relegation commences. Football Queensland has made rules that a Queensland coming into the NST will revert to the competition it was in before it joined the NST. That is inconsistent with the approach of other member federations.

For example, with Preston Lions FC competing in Victoria Premier League 1 in 2024 prior to the commencement of NST, if they get relegated is it one step below to NPL Victoria or the original league they are in now?

Galatas outlined how everyone must be on the same page to form a unified system.

“As a scenario, we can think ahead to, say, 2027 and it’s the third year of competition, which is may also have expanded by then and include Queensland teams,” he said.

“For example, if, say, Preston Lions from Victoria and Sunshine Coast Fire FC from Queensland are relegation candidates in that season, it’s untenable that those teams would face different predicaments if relegated with Preston to the NPL and Sunshine Coast to oblivion.

“Hypothetically if we talk about relegation, everyone agrees that a Victorian-based club would be relegated to NPL Victoria even if originally from a lower league.

“However, when you compare it to a Queensland club, getting relegated means that they go into oblivion, which doesn’t add up. It’s fundamental and accepted practice that a relegated team goes down one rung and it has the chance to come up again.

“Football Australia needs to discuss a relegation scenario with all of the member federations and ensure there is a consistent approach. It will run the competition and must ensure the member federations work together with it and the clubs to achieve this outcome.”

Galatas outlined what he hopes to see out of the upcoming application process, moving one step closer to an Australia-wide competition.

“Instead of the eight confirmed teams we see now, it should be 12 teams from hopefully at least four states or territories to achieve the best competition,” he said.

“I would have liked to have seen a 2024 start date with 12 teams and have all the big players ready to go, but instead we’ve had a delay. But so long as we use the additional time to start strongly, the extra year to wait is not important in the overall picture.

“Having Queensland plus at least one of South Australia, Tasmania and Canberra to include four states from the get-go is the ideal platform to build on.

“Then we can look at Western Australia and the remaining areas as we build – we are just starting. We can grow the competition without rushing into it too much from a logistical point of view.”

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