Challenges for VAR in the 2018 World Cup in Russia

2018-02-12

The hottest topic in football at present, VAR stands for video assistant referee. It is being trialled in a number of competitions across the world and will likely be used at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

The idea is to cut out clear errors and ensure that contentious incidents do not continue to have an adverse effect on matches. The VAR system can only be used in four game-changing scenarios:

  1. Goals (and incidents leading up to them),
  2. Penalties,
  3. Red cards and
  4. Cases of mistaken identity.

Decisions can be overturned, but only in the case of a clear error. The referee can request a video review of the incident, or the VAR can notify the referee of an error. The referee has the option of accepting VAR advice or of reviewing footage before coming to a decision.

The final decision to use VAR at the 2018 World cup falls to the International Football Association Board on March 2 when its annual meeting is held at FIFA. This was one of the options supported in my original #StopDiving petition to the FA, so I am naturally delighted to see this development, and see it as a big step forwards in fighting the players who set out to deceive the referee. Their mindset and behaviour will have to change in face of the new reality.

The undeniable fact is that there have been far too many incorrect decisions at the top level that affect the match result. Slow motion footage is reviewed afterwards and decisions are confirmed as incorrect too late to do anything about it. Video reviews are normal in most other major sports, and football has fallen behind.

The trials so far have proved to be controversial, and I think this will continue for some time until it settles down and FIFA decides how best to use the system. There are two different camps at the moment – those who support VAR and want to see correct decisions vs those opposed, who do not wish to see any delays or disruption to the flow of the game. This latter point is the key area for the decision makers to get right if VAR is to be successful – decisions have to be made quickly without disrupting the flow of the game so that it is spoiled for players and supporters. In the trials to date, there have been too many interruptions and it is taking too long to come to the final decision. This has to be addressed quickly by the authorities.

Another important factor is the need to keep the supporters informed. Delay is bad enough, but even worse if the crowd do not know what is happening. This also needs to be addressed quickly for VAR to be successful.

I do wonder how committed the referees are to this new development. It takes away from their authority on the pitch and incorrect decisions are shown up while the play is live. The length of time for reviews at present suggests to me they are not truly behind the initiative – they are well aware that delays and disruption will quickly antagonise the public. Something to keep an eye on in the weeks ahead.

Looking further ahead, when VAR has settled down, it will be interesting to see how the game develops to take account of the new technology – for example, instead of a linesman flagging quickly for offside as at present, will they let the game flow to it’s natural breaking point to see if a goal is scored, and only then review for the offside? I think this would make sense and in time will lead to more excitement which will be good for the game.

These are only some initial thoughts – please feel free to add your comments below.

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