FIFA has World Cup decision to make with VAR: Inside football's new biggest debate

Aditya Devavrat 10:00 15/12/2017
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FIFA trialled the VAR system at the Confederations Cup this year.

Whenever a match is decided by a controversial refereeing decision, the cries go out for technology. But did everyone really believe it was that simple?

The MLS and Portugal’s Primeira Liga have implemented the new Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system, as have, more notably, the Bundesliga and Serie A. On Thursday, it was revealed that VAR will be introduced to France’s top division Ligue 1.

“Video technology will be in Ligue 1 next season,” said the president of Giungamp Bertrand Desplat after Thursday’s general meeting of the French football league (LFP).

“If everything goes well, we should start at the beginning of next season,” added the president of the French football Federation (FFF) Noel Le Graet.

“I think it’s a good initiative, all the club presidents want it, as do the referees and other observers.”

It’s being used at the Club World Cup, where, on Wednesday, both Real Madrid and Al Jazira had a goal ruled out thanks to VAR. And by March, FIFA will have to decide whether VAR will be used at next year’s World Cup.

While the introduction of goal-line technology has been successful, VAR has so far had mixed results.

The point of both is to counterbalance human error, which is inevitable, but VAR can only go so far in doing that. There’s the issue of what can be reviewed – penalties, goals, fouls in the build-up to a goal, straight red cards, and cases of mistaken identity.

That still leaves plenty of potentially game-altering decisions that can’t be brought to the VAR.

Then there’s the most common complaint, from the purists, that the pause in the game while the referee is consulting the VAR system kills the flow and the atmosphere of a match.

While there’s plenty to be said for the argument that getting crucial decisions right is more important, there’s no doubt that the spectacle is ruined somewhat by everyone standing around in front of a hushed crowd waiting for a decision.

Fans in Germany in particular have been quite vocal with their opposition, with groans echoing around stadiums whenever the signal goes up that the VAR is about to be called into action.

But there’s no doubt that with so much at stake in many matches, allowing refereeing mistakes to dictate the outcome is problematic. Not to mention, it seems inexplicable that in an age where so much technology is available, football would refuse to use it.

However, using technology is no guarantee of eliminating human error. Back again in Germany, the Bundesliga demonstrated how the VAR is far from perfect, in one of the scandals of the year.

The head of Germany’s VAR system, Hellmut Krug, was sacked last month amid accusations that he influenced two key decisions in favour of Schalke, the team he supports.

The point there is that no system is incorruptible when it still involves human decision-making. It need not be nefarious – even after using the VAR, an incident can be a 50-50 call, open to interpretation, allowing plenty of room to debate and criticise referees for their final decision.

Human error has shaped the history of football. Diego Maradona‘s infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal. Thierry Henry‘s handball against Ireland in a 2010 World Cup qualifier.

Geoff Hurst’s crucial goal for England against West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final. Frank Lampard‘s goal that never was against Germany in 2010, despite clearly crossing the line. Is the game better because these errors went down in footballing legend, or would it be better if the right decision were made?

That’s the call FIFA has to make in March. We’ll leave it to you to watch the video and make up your mind.

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