FIFA World Cup 2018 to Employ Video Assistant Referee – Preview & Reservations

VAR @ WC 2018

The first major innovation to the game since the introduction of goal-line technology, Video Assistant Referee (VAR) is hailed as making football more transparent and fairer, helping referees come to the right decisions. However while the goal line technology has become almost universally accepted, acknowledged as accurate and fast in informing the officials whether the ball has crossed the line, VAR has left a lot of questions and doubts in the competitions in which it has been used.

How Does The Video Assistant Referee Work?

VAR is dependent on communication between the referee on the pitch and a further referee analysing incidents on a screen away from the stadium. VAR cannot be used for all potential decisions in a match, only those affecting goals, penalties, red cards, possible mistaken identity and offsides. VAR remains advisory and ultimately the on-pitch referee still has the final say on all decisions. Any players trying to influence the referee by trying to get him to refer an incident to VAR risk a yellow card for unsporting conduct.

How Has The Video Assistant Referee Worked So Far?

Competitions in countries including England, Germany and Italy have been using VAR to mixed reactions. In England, it has been seen in domestic cup matches and the main complaint has been the length of time it can take to reach a decision. Largely the decisions reached have been correct which is what the officials naturally want, but for the fans, it has sometimes led to a very stop-start spectacle with matches frequently halted for VAR references.

The flow of the game can be affected and while the decision is being made the fans in the stadium are left very much in the dark, not being informed of the process. Although fans still will not see a video replay of the incident while the referee is consulting VAR at the World Cup, they will see one on the large screens after the decision is made.

Incidents Using The Video Assistant Referee

VAR has the potential to be the main talking point at some games at the World Cup as it has been in games in which it has been trialed. In the Bundesliga match between Mainz and Freiburg, the players were called back from the changing rooms at halftime for a belatedly awarded penalty from VAR. The system has been used in the Bundesliga all season but a recent survey polled 47% of players saying they would like to be rid of it.

In England, VAR has been used in a number of FA Cup matches. The then West Brom manager Alan Pardew called VAR “bizarre” as three incidents in the first half led to delays. Apart from affecting the atmosphere within the stadium, Pardew also implied the stops could have played a role in hamstring injuries to two of his players. The cup game between Tottenham and Rochdale also led to Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino branding VAR “comical” and “embarrassing” after it disallowed one goal and overturned a penalty which had been scored.

Outrights to Win the World Cup

The Way Forward For The Video Assistant Referee

It is still early days for VAR, and whether it is right at this moment for the sport’s premier competition only time will tell. The English Premier League has said it will monitor the World Cup closely before deciding on its own possible implementation of VAR for all games, though the UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin has already ruled out its use for next season’s Champions League matches.

In a change to the current use of the VAR System FIFA has ruled that replays of incidents at the 2018 World Cup reviewed by VAR will be shown on big screens after the decision has been made.

One of the more reasonable concerns going into the World Cup is how many of the tournament’s referees will not have used VAR when previously officiating. Ultimately even with VAR some decisions still come down to interpretation, for example, deliberate handball, and disagreements on decisions will remain.

Hopefully, FIFA will find a way of speeding up the decision making process and the system accompanies and improves the tournament rather than hinders or detracts from the football.