The buzz around the World cup is at an all-time high and unsurprisingly so. Today marks the eve of the 21st edition of the mundial to be held across eleven cities in Russia. All 31 participating countries that excluding Russia who play host have pitched tents in various cities where games will be held, fans from across the globe; some from non-participating countries have touched down on the largest country in the world(by size) to enjoy moments that would last just a month long; 14 June-15 July leaving behind memories for sport lovers to savor for as long as another four years before the next edition.
All eyes will be on defending champions, Germany who will seek to defend their title as world champions and join Brazil (5) in an exclusive list of teams with most World cup titles. The Germans will not be the only team courting attention though as a resurgent Spanish side, a ‘Joga bonito’ playing Brazil, the ultra-talented French and Belgian teams, the unpredictable English side, a Cristiano Ronaldo led Portugal and a Messi-dependent Argentina are sides tipped to lift the World cup title in Moscow. It is worth noting that no country outside Europe or Latin America has lifted the world cup and at Russia, the tradition is expected to continue.
While 11vs11 in all 64 games to be staged will be the center of attention in Russia, a non-playing technology will also be getting due attention especially from the center referee. Whether you guessed right or wrong, I’m referring to the Video Assistant Referee, VAR. The VAR will be making its first appearance in a World cup this June-July but it is already well known among football fans and a very popular topic of debate.
After years of asking, World football finally got the Video technology it clamored for. In a bid to eradicate the controversies that arise from poor refereeing decisions especially the ones from ‘supposed’ human error or negligence the VAR was implemented to help referees review and correct decisions if need arises. Since its debut trial in a United Soccer League match between New York Red Bulls II and Orlando City B in August 2016, the VAR has taken the sidelines in competitive and non-competitive matches to both positive and negative reviews and its own unique set of controversies some of which might interest you;
“In a Bundesliga match between Mainz and Freiburg in April 2018, players were instructed to return to the pitch, having left for half time, after VAR determined that a penalty was due.
In the 2018 A-League grand final between Newcastle Jets and Melbourne Victory, VAR failed to overturn a Melbourne Victory goal due to an offside. It was later revealed that the VAR software suffered a technical malfunction which prevented the assistant referee to view the replay. Melbourne went on to win the game 1-0.” Source: Wikipedia.
The Video Assistant Referee has been criticized for various reasons ranging from time wasting to its ability to create confusion rather than providing clarity and the idea that the presence of technology to eradicate almost 99.99% of refereeing errors takes away the excitement in the game; similar reason cited against the introduction of the Goal-line technology asides it been expensive.
Regardless, FIFA announced in March this year in a council meeting in Bogota, Colombia that the Video Assistant Referee will feature at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Whatever our opinions about the VAR are, I think we might just need to get accustomed to a lot of stoppages during the World cup. Maybe with the Video Assistant Referee watching closely, we will get to see less simulation from players especially those trying to win their sides penalty kicks; one positive. So, what is a VAR?
The Video Assistant referee is a team of three that comprises of a Video referee in person, an assistant and a replay operator; more of a technician. The team of three are tasked with reviewing calls made by the center referee by watching replays of on-field incidents from camera angles at their disposal. The referee is also provided a sideline monitor to review such incidents that require VAR and a mouthpiece to communicate with the video referee.
VAR will be used if the referee requests a review after making a decision he is uncertain about or if an error is spotted by the Video referee in any of these four instances; Goals, Penalties, Red cards and mistaken identity. Once an error is spotted, for instance in the case of mistaken identity the Video referee communicates to the referee further advising the supposedly correct decision and the main referee has the option to take the VAR’s advise or go over the video footage on the sideline monitor before making a final decision. In one sentence, VAR does not make the final decision, it only suggests, the centre referee’s decision remains final.
VAR in the World Cup
VAR will be making its debut at the World Cup this year and will be as present as the supporters, players, coaches, referees and what have you. Thirteen officials have been designated the roles of video referee and will resume operations from an HQ in the Russian capital, Moscow soon as the World Cup kicks off.
The VAR will still operate the same way with no adjustments been made except that fans can now follow every video review and subsequent decisions from the big screens installed in stadiums. This comes on the back of fans being disgruntled on not being aware of what goes on before them.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino and Head of FIFA’s refereeing committee, Pierluigi Collina have both scored the technology well based on its performance in previous trials while some who have experienced the VAR first-hand especially players and coaches have discredited its use citing a host of reasons. Time, time and time again, there have been complaints about how much time it takes to review some incidents and the effect it has on the whole vibe; one word morale-draining. Also the fact that the referee’s final call might be somewhat wrong even after a video review has caused some to ponder why the VAR is even been implemented not to forget that not all controversial decisions are called up for review prompting Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa to say “Some plays, yes [they refer], and others no, they will have to find a fairer way.”
There might be a fairer way than the VAR, but there is presently no fairer way than the VAR. The VAR will bore fans in the world cup, raise a couple of questions and even dampen the spirit of affected teams but is it inefficient? Despite its shortcomings, a study proved that the implementation of VAR has seen up to 5.8% increase in refereeing decisions. The earlier the better football got accustomed to the VAR, because it is here to stay and help the beautiful game.