In this year’s World Cup, we have all seen the referee do this:
That’s actually the signal for the Video Assistant Referees (VAR) to review the footage as fast as possible and report to the on-field referee.
VAR is essentially in the name itself. The fastest and most accurate recommendation to a referee on what he should decide on the pitch.
Why is VAR important?
The infamous “Hand of God” play by Maradona, England’s star player in the 1986th World Cup quarter-finals game against Argentina is one reason to fix conflicts in football. Maradona basically scored a goal with his hand and no one apparently saw it.
Another instance is the infamous “Phantom Goal”. The year was 1966 and England and Germany in the final were tied with 2-2, in the eighth minute of extra-time. England’s striker Geoff Hurst was accredited with a goal that should have never counted because it never crossed the line as recent technology showed.
Why the late arrival of VAR?
Technically, VAR has been used since 2016, but this is the first time that it is incorporated officially in the World Cup.
Essentially, VAR includes 4 referee assistants sitting across a screen, all viewing footage of the game in real time.
VAR was far from getting unanimous consensus on its use.
For one, there are times when the games scratch to a halt to enable time to review the VAR replay.
Fans and sponsors hate that.
Other times, even with VAR, both the referee and the VAR operators can make a judgment mistake.
Look what happened with Australia at this World Cup when the country lost to France.
The team was averse to the use of VAR, pointing the loss at it.
The VAR final decision was to award France a penalty after a review, but Australian players felt betrayed and so did their fans, but that does not mean it was an incorrect one.
What about momentum?
Tottenham Hotspur’s FA Cup replay with Rochdale was mired in controversy as VAR ruled out an early Spurs goal and overturned a penalty.
In that same game, an early goal ruled out by VAR, with a replay system again intervening over and over, leaving fans confused, and steaming when it was all set and done.
A player later said: “Obviously the decisions took some momentum out of the game but the referee has to make the decision so we have to wait,” he added. “It was confusing.”
Speed vs accuracy
Speed: Is there a time limit on decisions using VAR?
Not really, but VAR cannot be used for an incident once play has restarted after being stopped.
So, if VAR fails to spot and flag something prior to a free-kick, goal-kick, throw-in, corner-kick etc, it is too late.
Goals can also only be disallowed using VAR if something is amiss in the attacking move which leads to it being scored, not during the longer build-up period.
Accuracy: Why has Fifa decided to use it?
The sport’s governing bodies want to improve decision making and accuracy.
“I would say to the fans, players, and coaches that it will have an impact, a positive impact,” said Fifa president Infantino. “That is what the results of the study show.
“From almost 1,000 live matches that were part of the experiment, the level of the accuracy increased from 93% to 99%. It’s almost perfect.”
“Of course, we need to speed up the reviews and the communication to the referees that are applying it but also for the general public.”