THE EDITOR: Amidst all the falling down and rolling around, the World Cup has been most exciting with all its upsets, early exit of favourites and the bantering of fans as they jumped from bandwagon to bandwagon. However, one must take time to reflect on the most aggressive change that occurred – the Video Assistant Referee (VAR).
VAR was introduced to assist in improving decision-making as it pertains to mainly four match-changing situations – penalties, goals, direct red cards and mistaken identity. The process occurs when the referee informs the VAR, or the VAR recommends to the referee, that a decision/incident should be reviewed.
Once the video footage is reviewed by the VAR the referee is advised via headset what the video shows. The referee can then decide to review the video footage himself on the side of the field of play before taking the appropriate action/decision, or he can accept the information from the VAR and take the appropriate action.
In short, a new breed of officiating requirements has now been added to include a new functional unit of officiators – the VAR assistants themselves.
In acknowledging the element of human error, use of the technology at the World Cup has resulted in an increase in accuracy in officiating to a factor of over 99 per cent in situations where applied. However, in the early group stages comments from people included “the need for a VAR for the VAR itself,” as there were mistakes which perhaps should have gone to VAR but did not.
This in itself now leads to the discussion of what is defined as a match-changing incident. It also raises the issue of consistent application on the part of referees; but the players and coaches themselves as stakeholder must know that with “Big Brother” watching the tactics of grappling and unwanted hugging in the box, it is now harder for disguise under such a watchful eye.
While use of the technology will not eliminate the potential of bias, it does bring greater transparency to the game and puts officials under less pressure, knowing the burden of wrongful decisions can be corrected if the tool is viewed as an ally; as opposed to a performance-tracking device for which it also serves.
Interpretation of laws will still remain an issue, however, as in interpreting the deliberate nature of hand balls in the penalty box. But essentially what has occurred still shows that the use of VAR has allowed for the reversal of as much as 60 per cent of wrong decisions that would have otherwise been made. Put in context, one can ask what would have been the outcome of the World Cup when there was the “hand of God” incident had VAR been in use then.
VAR then will serve to clean up the game and bring it to a better place in terms of fair play and fair outcomes through the elimination of blatant mistakes on the part of referees. It should be noted though the referee can refuse the advice of VAR.
To further extract positive usage from VAR, in reviewing any planned clauses to do with its use, it should be stressed that upon review simulation and/or diving occurring to obtain unfair advantage, the options of the referee can also include issuing cards for such acting.
With such great inroads that the use of technology brings to the sport, the next consideration for FIFA is how to provide the developing nations with access to these game-changing technologies so they too can eliminate the errors that occur in their own backyards.
GAVIN LUKE via e-mail