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Will Football win VAR of the worlds at World Cup in Russia

No change in football has been subjected to the scrutiny that Video Assistant Referee (VAR) has been ahead of the FIFA World Cup in Russia.

football Updated: May 24, 2018 11:13 IST
Sayan Ghosh
Sayan Ghosh
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Video Assistant Referee (VAR) will be making his debut at the FIFA World Cup in Russia.(REUTERS)

When it comes to football, changes are rarely met with a lot of enthusiasm among the fans or the players. From the controversial ‘golden goal’ which was used in the 1998 and 2002 editions of the FIFA World Cup to the triple punishment law change which ensures a red card is not shown for a foul by the last man if there is a genuine attempt to play the ball, no new rule has been immune from criticism.

However, few innovations have caused a bigger stir among the football community than the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) which will make its World Cup debut in 2018. In theory, the VAR is the perfect system to help the referees in taking crucial decisions during the game. But, a lack of understanding of the technology and the long-drawn process (an average of 2.5 minute per decision) has made it quite unpopular among a major number of fans who believe that the momentum of the game is hampered by the constant stoppages.

“Football is a creative sport. It’s a sport that we love, a passionate sport that people love to watch around the world. We will be pushing that sport into a very rigid structure with VAR and I am worried that maybe we are going to kill the game,” Tottenham Hotspur Mauricio Pochettino said when asked about his views on the technology.

Power comes with a price

This argument is quite common among fans, but it is also important to look at the huge difference that VAR can make when it comes to protecting the integrity of the sport. Blaming the referees has been a common practice among fans, players and managers alike when the decision does not go their way. But, with the help of this technology, the on-field officials finally have the power to review their decisions and make sure that incidents like Diego Maradona’s infamous ‘Hand of God’ never happens again on the grandest stage of football.

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“I am sure that VAR will have the same positive impact through enhancing the integrity and honesty in our game. We need to realise, however, that although it will never be perfect, it will – for sure – avoid a lot of controversy and will preserve many footballing destinies which can be ruined by something we are all susceptible to – human error, “ FIFA Deputy Secretary General Zvonimir Boban said in an interview.

While the VAR has given a new lease of power to the referees, it has also opened them up to new controversies. They can now be accused of bias if they decide not to consult the VAR and that can create a dilemma in the minds of the officials during tense situations.

During the A-League Grand Final in Australia this year, Melbourne Victory’s title-winning goal came from an offside position against the Newcastle Jets. The tournament had decided to implement VAR, but the video referee did not intervene and the goal was awarded despite there being three players in obvious offside positions in the build-up. It caused a huge uproar among the fans and the system was put under review after tournament officials blamed it on a technical glitch.

Too soon to implement?

It is important to understand that VAR is a relatively new technology and the 2016 FIFA Confederations Cup was the first time that he was used on a big stage. Some prominent leagues did experiment last season, but the trials were far from being flawless. The VAR is still in its early stages and the officials are still figuring out the nuances of the system. As a result, it is still too soon to give a clear judgement on the success of VAR and the FIFA World Cup will certainly be the real acid test for the technology.

FIFA’s tech support
In the last edition in Brazil, goalline technology was introduced and this time in Russia, referees will have even greater assistance to make the right decisions through Video Assistant Referees (VAR). So what will it mean for the tournament and how will it be used?
What is VAR? VAR (Video Assistant Referee) mainly refers to the team of three officials who are tasked with the responsibility to review the on-field referee’s decisions by watching video replays. The team comprises the video assistant referee, his assistant and a replay operator.
1
CAMERAS 12 cameras, six around each goal, each capturing footage at 500 frames per second (two gigabytes), which is transmitted to 15 computers via fibre optic cables.
GETTYIMAGES
2
CONTROL ROOM VOR stands for ‘video operation room’ and there will be one in Russia, located in the International Broadcast Centre in Moscow. All camera feeds from the 12 stadiums will be provided to the VOR.
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REFEREE VARs can only offer advice to referees, they cannot make decisions. If a referee remains in doubt, he can check the footage of the incident on a monitor by the touchline.
4
LIVE DISPLAY 3D view of such goals and near-misses can be beamed on the big screen and on TV in real time. This replay system refreshes the 3D position of the ball every 2 milliseconds.
When does VAR come into action?
The process for reviewing a decision using VAR works in two ways: The referee can request a review after making a decision or the VAR team can recommend one. In the latter situation, if VAR thinks that there is a potential for a clear error, they can notify the on-field referee. The referee then has three options: he can overturn the call, review the incident on a monitor on the touchline or stick with his original decision.
VAR vs Goalline Technology
Goalline technology does not interfere with the game, and the referee immediately receives a signal on his watch to indicate a goal. VAR, on the other hand, requires the on-field officials to stop the game. VAR looks at all aspects leading up to a goal that might have been missed, including offside or a foul by the attacking team in the build-up. Then, VAR’s decision is relayed to the referee on the field who takes the final call.
VAR: The journey so far
The VAR was first used during a match between two MLS reserve teams in August 2016. It has since been used by A-League and MLS. The first big meet to use VAR was 2016 Confederations Cup in Russia and since then, Bundesliga and Serie A have used it. England first used it in November 2017 in a friendly versus Germany. VAR made its competitive debut in England in January 2018 in the FA Cup tie between Brighton and Crystal Palace.
VAR criticism not unfounded
VAR has made ’16-18’ errors in Serie A this season, according to referee designator Nicola Rizzoli and he also said that the system will take 2-3 more years. VAR was also criticised during the FA Cup match between Man United and Huddersfield when referee Kevin Friend called for it to check Juan Mata’s goal. Neil Swarbrick - the man in charge of making the call -advised Friend to disallow the goal. Most experts believed Mata’s goal should have stood.
If only VAR was there: World Cup games where the technology could have been helpful
England vs Germany - 2010
Frank Lampard’s shot hit the underside of Manuel Neuer’s crossbar and bounced a foot over the line. But referee Jorge Larrionda and his assistant Mauricio Espinosa denied England. Germany went on to win 4-1.
Italy vs South Korea - 2002
During the Round of 16, Italy’s Francesco Totti was sent off for diving when replays showed he tripped. The decision proved to be the turning point in the game as South Korea went on to win.
Argentina vs England - 1986
Diego Maradona jumped above goalkeeper Peter Shilton and flicked the ball in with the outside of his left fist. The referee failed to spot it and the Hand of God goal stood.
USSR vs Belgium - 1986
Belgium won 4-3 to knock USSR out. The USSR twice led in normal time, but Belgium equalised through offside goals — including one from Jan Ceulemans in which he was five yards ahead of play
England vs West Germany - 1966
The final was level at 2-2 when Geoff Hurst’s shot hit underside of the bar and bounced out. USSR linesman Tofik Bakhramov awarded the goal to England who got their hands on their first World Cup title.
TEXT: SAYAN GHOSH; GRAPHICS: MUKESH SHARMA & HITESH MATHUR