By Ras Wadada
When it was announced, in March of this year, by FIFA that the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) will be a new innovation at Russia 2018 there were mixed reactions from around the world with most of the skeptics citing that the flow of the game would be interrupted as well as the suggestion that the new technological idea should be given more time before being introduced at the quadrennial showpiece.
VAR has been in existence for over a year at multiple major leagues around the world, including the German Bundesliga, Italy’s Serie ‘A’ and the USA’s Major League. So while it might be strange to some players at the 21st edition of the World Cup, others have already been exposed to it and have experienced its good intent in bringing more fairness to the ‘Beautiful Game’. All major sports use modern video technology to enhance officiating among other key areas of development.
There can be no denial of the huge impact and real value of the VAR on Russia 2018, though there have been some questionable decisions in some instances that were clear to the eyes of viewers. According to statistics revealed by FIFA, 99.3 percent of match changing plays were called correctly during the group stage games of Russia 2018, indicating how close to perfection is video review.
For the records there were 17 VAR reviews that resulted in 10 penalty kicks and two goals that would have otherwise been disallowed. VAR also over-ruled two penalty kicks that were incorrectly awarded by the officiating referee, as well as assisted in positively distinguishing a player, whose identity was mixed up with another, by the on-field referee. Importantly also is the time frame for the on-field referee to review a play and make a decision which has turned out to be at an average 86 seconds per case. Not bad for a much welcomed ‘time out’ for the players.
The VAR has also been instrumental in the record breaking 24 penalty kicks so far awarded and with 18 matches remaining, Russia 2018 already has six more than the previous record of 18, set at the 2002 Championship, held in Korea/Japan. The significant reduction in red cards at the group stage can also be linked to the introduction of the VAR since players are aware that there are a multiplicity of cameras at all matches capturing their every movement. The three sending-offs so far are the fewest since World Cup 1982 staged in Spain, when three players were also given marching orders. Brazil 2014 had nine, South Africa 2010 13 and Germany 2006 18.
The pivotal role that the VAR has played in bringing about fairer results to matches cannot be disputed. However, the invention and ownership of the VAR, according to a report, is now a bone of contention between a native of Spain and the world governing body for football.
It is alleged that Francois Lopez has begun a legal course of action against FIFA for its use of the VAR at Russia 2018. According to the report, Lopez is claiming that he is the first person to have brought the idea of video reviewing for football matches when he presented a project proposal to the Spanish Ministry of Sport and Culture in September of 1999. Lopez stated that the title given to his project in 1999 was – El futbol del siglo xxi: Tecnologia de futuro para los equipos arbitrales – which, when translated, means, Football in the 21st century: Future Technology for referees.
The Spanish national added that he sent a request to the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) and FIFA to stop using the system, but no action was taken so he is seeking 15 million Euros in compensation. Whatever the outcome may be, and for sure, it will be resolved, the presence of the VAR at Russia 2018 has made a big difference in bringing the ‘Beautiful Game’ closer to perfection.
From all appearances this technological addition is a costly one, but with the International Football Association Board approving its usefulness and recommending its implementation to the sport, players and fans will soon get used to this positive new curve of the ‘Beautiful Game’ that is bound to spread across the globe. In reality, some people do appreciate the VAR, some are yet to be convinced and then there are the ‘purist’ of the sport who will never accept, technology over the human eye. Personally, without hesitation, I endorse, while I ponder what could and should have been in the past had VAR been in existence. Indeed the VAR is a positive new curve in the unending evolution of the ‘Beautiful Game’ that all will soon embrace and appreciate more as part of the football-culture.