Video Assistant Referee: Is the new reform good or bad?
For many years, football has lived in a universe of horrendous decisions, gut-wrenching calls and undying debates about certain refereeing decisions in the past.
From Diego Maradona’s ‘hand of god’ goal against England in 1986, to Luis Suárez’s ‘hand of the devil’ handball against Ghana in 2010, such debatable decisions raised questions about the ‘fairness’ of some decisions taken by the men in black.
When you are at the receiving end, it always feels like the match officials could have done better, or at least something more could have been done to avoid a goal being wrongly awarded or wrongly disallowed.
It is in this sense that FIFA and other stakeholders of the game are considering the introduction of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) to help improve decision making in football.
The concept of a video assistant referee-- the use of technology to aid match officials – has always baffled the sport of football.
But isn’t football supposed to entertain? Definitely yes, the game is what it is today because of the entertainment people get from watching or playing it and the drama that comes with referees’ decisions makes the excitement even more revelling, as someone who has probably never been a victim of a wrong goal or card might argue.
VAR was first used this year at the recently held FIFA U-20 World Cup in Korea and is also currently being piloted at the ongoing Confederation Cup in Russia. While in the former, there was no controversy about its use, the latter has been shrouded with confusion.
“I think it is necessary to enhance the integrity of football. The VAR will inevitably not be full proof, but is much better in terms of accuracy of calls compared to leaving it to just humans,” said Michael Oti Adjei, a leading sport journalist with the BBC.
Apart from the debate about whether VAR can actually enhance the accuracy of decision making, or whether it will deprive the game of some excitement, there are concerns about cost, especially in poorer countries.
“If there is any concern,” Mr. Adjei added, “I think it will be whether poorer countries can afford this in their various leagues and hence give it a measure of universality, but the principle of using a video referee to enhance decision making in difficult situations is an excellent one.”
Its piloting at the ongoing Confederation Cup in Russia, has so far being met with mix reaction. There are others who strongly believe that the idea of having a video referee will help bring some level of accuracy and fairness to the game.
The advantage of having technology to aid officials, some argue will definitely bring justice and also help prevent players from committing offences at the blind of the referee. The good thing about it is that it is able to review players’ actions within seconds to help the referee take the appropriate action.
The system works similarly to those used in cricket or rugby leagues, with an additional referee able to review footage in a booth before offering advice to the match referee on "game changing" decision which include goals, penalty calls, and straight red cards.
The technology was first used in a professional football match in August, 2016 in the United States in a game involving York Red Bulls II and Orlando City B, and was immediately referred to as the future of football.
Commenting on VAR being the future of football, Oti Adjei corroborated that, “Without the slightest shade of doubt, yes. Every sphere of life requires technology for enhancement and football can't be left out. Increasingly, there is too much at stake in football to leave it down to just human judgement.”
However, as already been seen at the ongoing Confederation Cup, VAR also has its own challenges. In the match between Cameroon and Chile, Chile's Eduardo Vargas appeared to have opened the scoring in the first half. He put the ball in the net, it was awarded, and then it was taken away for offside, which almost resulted in chaos on the pitch.
More controversially, Chile was actually helped by the technology at the end when Eduardo Vargas scored to make it 2-0. Alexis Sanchez was clearly offside, it was reviewed, and it wasn't called off.
For most, it was a poor call. It was really close, but the fact that a non-offside call was overturned just feels strange and shows that there is work to be done.