Raising the VAR
Football fans attending matches at the Russia 2018 world cup should have a clearer idea as to why certain decisions are made by the referee.
That’s after the governing body announced that the video replays used by the VAR (Video Assistant Referee) will be shown on big screens inside the ground.
FIFA aim to increase the transparency of the VAR decision making process and make it more inclusive for the spectator.
The video reviews will be shown to the crowd after the referee has made a final decision, to avoid crowd reaction influencing the referee.
VAR was confirmed for the FIFA World Cup back in March, after it was approved by soccer’s rule-making body IFAB.
We know communications inside the stadium and outside is important… we are learning the experience of different leagues – IFAB Head of Technology Sebastian Runge
Confusion and Controversy
While other sports have successfully incorporated close-call review technology, such as Hawkeye in tennis, to improve spectator experience, football has struggled to communicate how and why decisions have been made using VAR to fans watching live in the stadium.
The VAR system has been trialed in Italy’s Serie A, the German Bundesliga, and England’s FA Cup, with significant chaos and controversy. Most recently teams were ordered back to the field of play from the dressing rooms at half-time for a belated VAR penalty decision.
Six minutes and forty-four seconds after the halftime whistle had initially blown, Mainz’s Argentine forward Pablo de Blasis put away the penalty to give his side a 1-0 lead.
Replays showed that the decision was a correct one, but the manner of its implementation led to a toilet paper protest from the Mainz fans, which delayed the game for a further 10 minutes.
Imagine being awarded a penalty after players had already left the pitch for half-time, and then the second half being delayed by fans throwing toilet paper onto the pitch.
That’s exactly what happened at Mainz.
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) April 17, 2018
In one Serie A game, players waited several minutes to take a penalty, before the referee reversed the decision and awarded a free kick to their opponents with baffled fans and coaching staff looking on.
English club Tottenham had two goals disallowed, were denied a penalty, and awarded another, all in the first half of an FA Cup replay against Rochdale at Wembley.
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino called the VAR performance “embarrassing”.
Episodes like these have seen VAR widely criticised and have led to much debate, mirth, and merry-making on the internet:
Breaking: VAR takes back Maradona’s 1st goal against England for a handball not initially seen. Travel arrangements are being made for teams to return to Mexico for England to restart from their own box and play the last 39 minutes.
— Kyle Martino (@kylemartino) April 17, 2018
But the use of the system has also received the support of high-profile football professionals, including Argentina’s 1986 hero Maradona himself:
Technology brings transparency and quality and it provides a positive outcome for teams who decide to attack and take risks. – Diego Maradona (fifa.com)
How VAR works
The video assistant referee team consists of the video assistant referee and three assistant video assistant referees with four replay video assistants choosing the best angles from 33 broadcast cameras. At Russia 2018 the VAR team is located in a centralised video operation room (VOR) in Moscow.
According to FIFA, the video assistant referee team supports the decision-making process of the on-pitch referee in four game-changing situations:
- Goals and offences leading up to a goal
- Penalty decisions and offences leading up to a penalty
- Direct red card incidents only
- Mistaken identity
The idea is that the VAR team is constantly checking for clear and obvious errors related to these four match-changing situations, and communicate with the referee only for clear and obvious mistakes or serious missed incidents.
For the 2018 FIFA World Cup™, the referees have received clear instructions on when to accept information from the video assistant referee and when to review the video footage on the side of the field of play before taking the appropriate action/decision. (fifa.com)
— Samindra Kunti (@samindrakunti) April 19, 2018
“VAR won’t provide a final answer”
The head of FIFA’s refereeing committee, Pierluigi Collina, said that VAR should only be used to correct obvious mistakes in game-changing incidents.
The goal of VAR is not to have clear and obvious mistakes committed on the field of play – Collina
VAR won’t provide a final answer. There will continue to be incidents where a final answer cannot be given…the target is to avoid major mistakes, not to scrutinise every single decision.