Stories of unfair impact: VAR Blind Spot


It’s June 17th, the 4th day of the men’s World Cup. Costa Rica are playing against Serbia in the first round of the group stage. The match is tied at 0-0. At minute 54:55, Aleksandar Mitrovic (Serbia) dives outside the box, displaying elements of the archer’s bow pose. A foul is given, a yellow card is shown to the challenging player and a set piece opportunity is given to Serbia.

Serbia take the free kick and score, gaining a 0-1 advantage. The goal is scored from a free kick outside the penalty box, with no red card involved – an incident VAR is not set up to review. The score remains at 0-1 for the rest of the match, earning Serbia 3 points for a victory. Ultimately, neither Serbia nor Costa Rica qualify for the round of 16, but it is natural to wonder whether the incident had a material bearing on qualification.

This example show how VAR currently fails to identify dives that lead to free kicks resulting in goals. Such incidents can be very impactful on the fairness of matches and tournaments. According to FIFA, the 2018 World Cup ‘has been a World Cup of set-pieces’, establishing a new competition record after overtaking the previous high mark of 62 set at France 1998. Clearly, it is important to be able to identify how many of them were awarded as the result of dives.

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