In this article, we explore why the Video Assistant Referee technology has divided opinion.
We at Khel Now pit two of our writers against each other as they debate and place their points for and against the VAR system and try to convince our readers why their points hold more merit over the other’s.
Why the VAR makes sense and is a great boon for referees?
Video Assistant Referee or as it is popularly known, VAR, has been all the craze at this FIFA World Cup in Russia. As a referee myself, I cannot be any more excited about the new technology.
Football is a fierce game of tactical superiority and physical brilliance and people on and off the field are passionately engrossed, from at least a day or two prior to the match and even for a couple of days after it is over.
This high amount of adrenaline-fueled involvement means that if the result goes your way, then, “ALL HAIL THE MAN WHO RAN THE GAME!”, or if your team loses or even if sometimes draws the game, it is referee lynching time.
Not very long ago a brilliant British referee, Michael Oliver, was dragged through the mud after Italian giants Juventus lost an important game and their supporters blamed his decision making for the defeat.
But, if you are not a lynch mob person and turn out to be a sensible human, you will see that blaming the referee was just a tactic to take the blame away from the ailing Juve team and place it on the man who was just doing his job in the right way.
These kinds of practices are prevalent around the world and drive referees insane and in one instance, in Brazil, lead a referee to madness, upon which he brandished a gun against the players who had threatened his life and beaten him up.
Watch: VAR explained by FIFA
However, if you think that referees finally have an escape route, you are terribly mistaken. Football referees have to live up to the high standards set by FIFA internationally. This includes the highest level of fitness and an exemplary knowledge of the Laws of the Game.
They are continually tested, evaluated and promoted or demoted and this ensures that only the best are serving at the topmost echelons. VAR is just another tool to ensure that the highest refereeing standards are maintained.
Just imagine if a referee having a bad day decides he will leave all the decision-making to VAR in a game and calls upon it a whopping 50 times. He is surely going to get fired and will never referee a game again.
In fact, referees are forced to be more accurate as their matchday assessors will be deducting points, if according to them, VAR is over-used. This keeps the officials honest and forces them to make better decisions.
While making these better decisions a referee no more has to look over his shoulder to ensure that a dagger is not going to be planted in his back as his decisions are now backed by technology, which apparently is more trustworthy than human beings.
He no more has to explain to the players why he gave a penalty or didn’t give one and can confidently deny or allow controversial goals. He no more has to answer the officials or hear expletives being hurled at him or her from the audience.
Watch: The use of VAR that made all the difference in the World Cup final
So, to sum it up, a referee is now under huge pressure, while not being under pressure at all. He has now to maintain the highest possible standards of the game we all love, while not being worried about being made the scapegoat by the players and officials.
Why it was a little too early For VAR to be introduced at the world’s greatest sporting event?
Football has always been a fast-paced game of emotions and high-intensity. Due to this, decisions have to be made within a short period of time – say two and a half minutes. The decision-making power has long belonged to the much-criticised referees.
Referees are criticised by the losing teams, or even if a match ends as a draw. Little do we realize that a referee is a human being, just like us, with a limited capacity of vision. What we see on our television screen is not similar to what the referee sees. As someone who plays regularly, I know the pressure a referee is under, whenever he has to make a decision which might decide a match’s outcome.
Modern day football has put referees under more pressure, including player simulation. Something which might seem like a foul to the naked eye, might just be a player play-acting. So, FIFA has introduced VAR. But, little do we realize that this technology was not yet ready to be introduced at the world’s biggest sporting event, the FIFA World Cup. I honestly feel its introduction right now was a little rash. For me, technology disturbs the originality of sport and seeks to eliminate the tendency for human error, which makes it so unpredictable.
Watch: Mistakes VAR would have fixed
First of all, once a referee makes a decision, he can’t change it and as football is a fast-paced sport, the VAR team also has to be quick with their decision. In a span of a minute or two (which is not feasible), a small team of officials has to decide on the basis of multiple angles. In those few minutes, human factors come into consideration too, like the pressure of choosing the right angle.
Like we saw in the case of Cristian Pavon against Iceland or Radamel Falcao against Japan. Pavon was clearly fouled by an Icelandic defender, but in a short span of time, the VAR officials and the referee couldn’t pick the right angle and didn’t award the La Albiceleste a potential match-winning penalty. VAR is not feasible right now due to limitations in decision-making.
Football is a sport of continuous movement. Every individual on the field, including the linesmen has to be on their feet. Little do we realize that stopping a game for two and a half minutes on a frequent basis, changes the entire kinetic structure of the match. The game plan gets altered and so does the style of play. A team might be attacking a lot, but after such a pause, the entire dynamics might change.
The power of the referee is being taken away. In this year’s edition of the FIFA World Cup, players demanded the use of VAR for almost every incident and even officials even paid heed at times. Slowly, we will come to a point when the referee takes a neutral stand on every incident, relying only on VAR technology.
VAR is not foolproof. There have repeated incidents earlier and even in this World Cup to highlight this. Most of the matches were decided by VAR and some decisions seemed to be wrong when reviewed later on.
VAR is not a failed technology, but 2018 was a little too early for it to be introduced on such a scale. FIFA needs to use more VAR officials in a match, so that in that stipulated period, the right decision is made.