The Confederations Cup has just drawn to a close, wrapping up the biggest trial of Video Assistant Refereeing (VAR) to date. The somewhat controversial technology has had a mixed response from players, coaches, and fans. So, the question remains: is there a place for VAR in football? Or is it a threat to the identity of the sport?
VAR Usage to Date
Before the Confederations Cup, VAR had been trialed in a few other lower-level competitions to assess its viability on the big stage.
It was first approved in June 2016 by the International Football Association Board (IFAB), who are in charge of deciding the Laws of the Game. They determined that VAR would be used for deciding goals and violations in build-up play, penalty decisions, red cards (but not yellow cards), and mistaken identity for yellow and red cards.
Ever since it was approved, the system has been used in the United States second division (USL), some international friendlies, the A-League in Australia, the FIFA Club World Cup, U-20 World Cup, and now the Confederations Cup.
Future plans for VAR include debuts in Major League Soccer, the Bundesliga, and the 2018 World Cup. But for the system to be implemented in these high-stake situations, it must work almost flawlessly. VAR has already received criticisms from the likes of Zinedine Zidane and Luka Modrić after some confusion with the technology at the Club World Cup.
The Confederations Cup had some rough patches, too. There were times when a decision was deferred to the VAR, but a call was not made by the head referee for several minutes, as seen in the Chile-Cameroon match. For this system to be seamlessly inserted into the game, surely it must not drastically disrupt the flow of the match.
One Step Closer to Fairness
VAR definitely has improved the fairness and accuracy of decisions made by the referees. In the same Chile-Cameroon match that caused confusion, VAR was used to disallow a goal for offside. The situation was perhaps too close for an assistant referee to consistently call correctly, but the VAR will always get that call right.
The inclusion of VAR in other professional matches will make sure that a title or relegation is not decided by a human error outside of any team’s control.
Furthermore, the referees will be under less scrutiny and pressure to get every call right, which is an unrealistic expectation to start with. Nowadays, it’s easy for fans to immediately blame referees and criticize them harshly for incorrect calls that affect the outcome of a match, so VAR will ideally take the majority of the criticism off the referees’ shoulders.
But the current iteration of the VAR still leaves a lot to be desired, leading to some fair complaints from the other side of the argument.
What is This, American Football?
Perhaps the biggest current complaint about VAR is the time it takes to reach a decision. This negative aspect of VAR affects everyone, from players and managers to fans at home and at the stadium.
Players are not used to having their momentum stalled by several minutes due to referee decisions that used to be made in seconds. It can affect their mentality and make it difficult to pick up the match at the same pace.
At the same time, fans are also forced to endure a wait that they are not used to. Those that watch on TV are usually not even able to see replays, so they are stuck watching a stadium with no action going on. The fans at the stadium have it even worse, since long waits can hurt the atmosphere at a match and decrease people’s emotion.
From the referee’s side of things, there is a concern that VAR will encourage officials to shy away from making big calls, instead opting to defer to video replays. If referees become overly dependent on video assistance, then the long pauses will only become more frequent and unnecessary.
There is also a question of the VAR’s limitations. People have been debating referees’ decisions since the sport was created, but are all decisions really that cut-and-dry when replays are reviewed? If a red card decision, for example, is debatable after VAR is used, then more time has been spent to make a call only marginally more accurate than a human.
It Only Gets Better From Here
Overall, the majority of the complaints surrounding VAR should be solved in the next few years as referees become more comfortable with the system and the technology improves.
If VAR can manage to stay accurate while improving decision times, and if referees are competent enough to use the system efficiently, then football can only improve with the inclusion of this exciting new technology.
Fingers crossed for next year’s World Cup.