After a few years of R&D and bureaucracy, FIFA has finally given the green light for the long-debated Video Assistant Referees (VAR), which will make their debut at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The system relies on match footage being analyzed by “specialized referees” who will have the power to review and overturn previous decisions made by the actual referees on the pitch.
Sounds exciting, but will it actually be effective?
“We are going to have our first World Cup with VAR. It has been approved and we are extremely happy with that decision,” said the FIFA president Gianni Infantino, before adding that referees are in need of additional support in tough decision-making moments that often have to be made quickly on the spot of the action during a match.
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“We need to live with the times. We wanted to give the referees tools so they can make better decisions, and in the World Cup some very important decisions are made,” highlighted the 47-year-old Swiss-Italian. “It’s not possible that in 2018 everyone in their living room knows a few seconds after the play whether a referee has made a mistake and the referee doesn’t.”
FIFA’s president Gianni Infantino is delighted with VAR’s imminent introduction at the 2018 World Cup in Russia (source: The Guardian)
But just like any new system that is first introduced to the public, VAR is still in its infancy which makes it susceptible to not only technical, but also human-related errors. Infantino himself has recently admitted that VAR is “not perfect” after countless tests showed slower than expected reviews by the referees, while the communication issues were also a problem around stadiums were the system was employed during test runs.
Over the course of 18 months, VAR was used on trial periods worldwide; most notably during the 2017 Confederations Cup, while club championships also got a taste as Bundesliga and Serie A made use of the new system. Both the English FA and UEFA on the other hand have no intention to utilize VAR in the Premier League and the Champions League, respectively. According to online sportsbook news, the system received a lot of criticism in late February when Tottenham secured a 6-1 victory over Rochdale in the FA Cup, as it saw a goal disallowed and a converted penalty overturned. So it’s not surprising that VAR is currently enjoying low support.
Will VAR be a massive flop or success at the upcoming WC?
Even the FIFA president expressed his reservations at first, but says that eventually he was convinced in its effectiveness after he saw the results of the VAR trials, arguing that the actual referees on the pitch during football games make far more “big mistake” without the presence of VAR to make more objective decisions for them.
“I was skeptical at first, but without trying, you cannot know what it’s worth,” Infantino stressed. “Without VAR, a referee can make one important mistake every three matches. With VAR, the figures we have seen from the trials that have been held show that a big mistake is made once every 19 matches.”
But it remains to be seen how this will actually work at the World Cup, and whether decisions made by the referees on the pitch will be celebrated by one group of supporters only for them to be chastising the VAR system once the decision is overturned a few moments later.
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