Like in any other sport ever since its inception, referees have been football’s kingmakers. Every decision on the field of play is in their authority. Quite naturally, they get decisions wrong at times. Many times these calls have a massive impact on the ultimate outcome of the game. Further, the ref calls have been subject of massive debate for fans walking out of the ground, in pubs and now on social media. Whether intentionally or not, it has become a part of the game. All that might be about to change forever. In order to reduce controversies, football has seen the introduction of Video assistance referee (VAR).
In the past year or so, football has taken a massive leap with the introduction of Video assistance referee. VAR is a system that allows the use of technology to oversee the decisions that officials have given on the field. The aim of it is to correct some critical decisions that referees are bound to get wrong.
From this season onwards VAR’s usage began in the Bundesliga and Serie A. Further, The English FA took the decision to use it in trial basis in the Carabao Cup and FA Cup. The idea behind the testing is to implement the system in the Premier League. Further, in a landmark decision by FIFA, VAR will be in use at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Earlier the system was in effect at the Confederations Cup and Club World Cup.
Being a referee is a profession where a single decision from you alter the outcome of a match, a tournament, and probably someone’s career. With the money at stake these days in the game, one simply cannot afford wrong decisions to decide football matches. Ultimately one cannot forget that referees are humans and its inevitable that they will make errors. While it’s easy to criticise the officials on seeing multiple replays, it cannot be easy to make a decision on real-time view in a split second. In order to avoid such mistakes having the assistance of technology is the best solution
Another big complaint about referees of late has been the lack of a unity in decisions they make. There have been multiple instances of double standards by officials. Observations have shown a similar foul getting a different treatment in a different match. Largely, it is understandable as each referee is bound to see things in a dissimilar view. Here is where VAR could be an important addition. The same system in practice across the league will bring consistency.
A major problem that football faces at the moment are of diving. Players are increasingly going down without contact in the penalty box. The purpose behind it is to manipulate referees in order to win a penalty. While referees should be aware to not fall into the trap, in reality, its impossible to always spot dives. The use of technology and review with VAR has the potential of completely eliminating diving. Though nothing can be done if a player decides to fall, replays will show their unfair act and ensure the player doesn’t gain the advantage he aspires to.
A system that promises to eradicate wrong decisions should ideally have universal acceptance. But, that isn’t the case for VAR. While it does enjoy considerable support in the football community, a lot of fans and pundits are quite reluctant to it. The question arises, why is the resistance?
The beauty of football lies in how fast a game it is. Many love the game for the nonstop action it brings. Clearly, the use of VAR is going to disrupt that aspect of the game. In order to use the system, there will be halts at various times. Frequent stoppages do not appeal to traditionalists of the game for obvious reasons.
With VAR’s implementation is various matches across the world, there are already lessons to take note of. The introduction of such a system requires constant tweaks and improvements to make it better to use. Here are few things for FIFA to look at
One of the major aspects that VAR aims to correct is offside calls. It is also the easiest decision to correct as there is no scope for different opinions. While the system will work perfectly when an offside call is not given by the referee. In such a situation it is very easy to call to go back and call the decision offside. But the catch comes in a reverse scenario, where the flag is raised in a wrong situation. While VAR can show the decision was wrong, the play would already have been stopped, which leaves the attacking team with no opportunity to score a goal. In order to correct this, referees need to be aware and given an instruction to only blow the whistle once the whistle is blown.
A big complaint from people inside the stadium has been that it creates confusion for the crowd. Many times VAR is called into action a few seconds after the action in contention took place. With no replays being shown on the stadium’s big screen, there is no way for fans to know what is happening. This creates an atmosphere of unease and annoyance around the stadium. To avoid this the officials must allow the replays to be shown on the screen. In no way, a scenario must be created where the fans are not happy.
The protocol of VAR says a decision must only be overturned if “There is an obvious mistake” from a referee. While the referee’s authority must be given respect it should not be something to be afraid of. VAR must be used whenever there is a visible mistake. The people in charge of the technology must be brave enough to overturn the decision. Unless that is done, the system will barely a serve a purpose.
The truth is football needs VAR more than ever. Across the sporting world the use of technology in sports like Tennis, Cricket and Hockey have bought a positive change.In those sports, it took a lot of time for the system to be perfect. There are still areas to work on. So will VAR in football. The key is to keep learning from mistakes to improve the process.