True to every World Cup that rolls around, the celebration has been rife for months. Flags have been flying, beers have been stocked and the cheering has already begun but there’s one thing starkly different about this year’s competition – VAR technology. This system had been put into place this year as a way of crafting a fairer competition for players, referees and officials alike but scepticism is already starting to surround these virtual referees. Talk of whether it works, whether it’s actually fair and how flaws can be worked out and fast is quickly mounting up, so the question that remains is this – has it been worth it? We’re exploring this in more depth below.
What Is VAR?
VAR – or Video Assistant Referee – is exactly what the name suggests. In essence, VAR all comes down to a single control room in Moscow, in which one lead video official and a further three assistants come together to monitor each game that is played regardless of where it is being held in Russia. Think of it a little like a live streaming of every match - with a series of 33 cameras usually used for broadcasting including 12 slow-motion cameras and a further two that can monitor off-sides, the control room is full of screens designed entirely for the purpose of making judgements on referee decisions and picking out potential mishaps that the pitch-based referee may have missed.
When something is caught out or a decision is queried, the officials that are watching the game from the control room and the referee on the pitch can communicate through a radio system. This system is designed to be fast, reliable and efficient, even when the games are being played on pitches hundreds and thousands of miles away in some cases!
This new technology is theoretically game-changing, but in a competition that sees some of the world’s bad boys of football - well known for their red card tendencies - a bit of extra assistance for the referee and game officials seems like a pretty good idea – but is it working?
Is It Working?
This is where the debate truly comes into play. VAR has the potential to revolutionise the awarding of penalties and other game-changing decisions, but when there have already been a few instances where VAR either hasn’t flagged up a potential issue or has changed a decision when it doesn’t appear to, the speculation around its legitimacy is understandable. Here, we’re taking a look at some of the good decisions, the bad decisions and the downright ugly debates before the time of writing of this article.
• The Good
For the most part, VAR has been used relatively well and has certainly helped clarify some debatable decisions. The first was the match between Peru and Denmark, in which Yussuf Poulsen was seen to have brought down Christian Cueva in what should’ve been a pretty clear penalty decision. Why VAR was used is debatable, though it was a good show of how the system is designed to work.
The Costa Rica vs. Serbia match was another good example of VAR use, though there was minor debate around it regardless. This time, VAR was brought out for a red-card review after Serbian player Aleksandar Prijovic’s hand caught Johnny Acosta in the face. Yellow cards can’t actually be reviewed through VAR, but if the review ended up with a yellow rather than a red, the protocol was correctly followed.
The Russia vs. Egypt game was another good example of VAR use, with an intervention from the officials in the review room rather than a referee-called check. VAR intervened when Mohamed Salah was issued a free kick after being brought down during the game by the opposition. However, due to the fact that the foul continued into the area, the officials declared that a penalty was a more appropriate response. The referee agreed and didn’t have to review the footage himself before it was turned from a free kick to a penalty.
• The Bad – Argentina-Iceland
While VAR has had some good examples, it’s had some downright bad ones too. Take the Argentina vs. Iceland match, for example – When Cristian Pavon was taken down as a result of contact from Birkir Saevarsson, fans were outraged when play seemed to continue on regardless of the obvious foul. Their outrage was never answered and no true explanation was ever given as to why it was overlooked.
In the end, this could be a case of the audience seeing a foul that was technically within rules but it did fuel debate as to whether or not VAR could really be quite as reliable as we have been made to think.
• The Ugly – England-Tunisia
We couldn’t talk about VAR without mentioning the intense controversy surrounding the England vs. Tunisia game. England has been highly motivated for this tournament, but despite winning their first game, the use of VAR – or rather, lack of it – has certainly turned the heads of fans and players alike. While there were three potential VAR uses, some of which were used, it was two fouls against Harry Kane that really drummed up controversy. As Ferjani Sassi and Yassine Meriah both bundled Kane to the floor, no penalty was given to England’s star player, thus sending fans into disarray with claims that the system just isn’t working.
While VAR has proven useful on more than one occasion, the incorrect use or lack of use entirely isn’t sitting well with some team’s fans. What do you think?