The 2018 World Cup is the first to see the introduction of the Virtual Assistant Referee (VAR) technology. This is a monumental moment that could forever change the game. However, a piling number of penalty kicks and questionable calls has made the players, coaching staff, and football fans begin to raise concerns if the VAR is a system that will improve the beautiful game.
Video refereeing has been looming football for years, ever since Frank Lampard’s clear goal in the 2010 World Cup against Germany was disallowed despite the ball clearly crossing the line.
What is the VAR?
The VAR team will support the referees from the International Broadcast Center located in Moscow. Each VAR team consists of one Video Assistant Referee along with three Assistant Video Assistant Referees. Additionally, four replay operators will choose and supply the best angles coming from the feed of all relevant broadcast cameras and two offside cameras.
Two feeds from the video operation room will be provided to the venue. The VAR output displays all the angles being reviewed by the team and a feed of the video operation room capturing everything happening during a VAR review.
The VAR process
The VAR team aids the decision-making process of the referee in the following situations:
- Goals and offenses leading up to goals
- Penalties and offenses leading up top penalties
- Direct red card incidents
- Mistaken identity
In the entire duration of the match, the VAR team constantly monitors mistakes related to these aforementioned scenarios. They will communicate with the referee only for evident errors made and serious missed incidents. The referee can delay the restart of play at any time to communicate with the VAR team. Should the referee decide that the incident is reviewable, the referee would initiate an official review by making a signal outlining a TV screen. The referee then makes a decision based on the video received from the VAR team or personally review the incident at the designated referee review area.
Even though the VAR technology was introduced to eliminate human error in the game, it still creates a handful of issues, which involves the following:
- Failure to provide fast clarification to fans about the current issue
- Various interpretations and whether the referees should react
- Lack of experience of World Cup referees with VAR
- Risk of referees acceding to player power for fear of making a mistake which might lead to career-ending decisions
Currently, the VAR might look like a double-edged sword that resolved past issues but introduced controversies of its own as well. Knowing that the technology is new to the game, we are bound to see more changes to the system that can eliminate these issues. In the meantime, we have to accept that the VAR is now part of the game in pursuit of fair play.
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