Confederations Cup 2017: Video assistant referees have proven to be confusing; decisions still subjective
The video assistant referee (VAR) system has backfired — it was introduced to curb contention in football, but has only enhanced it, so much so that even correct decisions are scrutinised.
For long FIFA were considered Luddites — a self-serving pseudo-organisation who ran — and still run — the beautiful game along the flimsy mores of autocratic football officials, out of touch with global reality, even on the playing field, where technology was blasphemous: technological advancement was outlawed. Cricket introduced DRS, rugby opted for video referees and tennis applied Hawk-Eye. Football did very little for a long time.
It was but a symptom of a conservative and slow-moving sports organisation. In 2012, the tech barrier began to crumble with the introduction of goal-line technology (GLT) — it assists referees in their decision-making by irrefutably asserting if a ball has crossed the line or not, stifling futuristic and incessant ‘Geoff Hurst goal’ debates.
That 1966 goal remains the pinnacle of football’s debating club and the topic of much banter. Did Sir Geoffrey Charles Hurst cross the line or not? It is a fait divers in the history of the universe, and yet, therein less a majestic beauty, and a profound joy — a lengthy and emotive powwow about 360 leather crossing a chalk line. It's almost simplicity at its best.
Technology is destructive for purism, but, at the same time, football mustn't be anachronistic. The video assistant referee (VAR) is the latest tech addition to the beautiful game. This season VAR has been tested at the Club World Cup and the U-20 World Cup in South Korea and FIFA want to fast-track the video reviews for next’s year World Cup. In March, International Football Association Board (IFAB) will take a decision if VAR will be used in Russia in 2018.
The current Confederations Cup may well be renamed the VAR Cup, it’s a classic case of the garnish having eaten the steak. The VAR was supposed to stop the debate in football, but instead has fueled it, if not doubled it. Gianni Infantino’s FIFA is one of 60-minute games with 40 minutes stoppage time to review decisions.
The Confederations Cup was to be a gentle dress rehearsal for next’s year World Cup, but instead it’s become a cynosure of controversy, a procession of glorified friendlies turned ugly. VAR has proven to be fallible, time-consuming and confusing in Russia. The inconsistencies are manifold: GLT establishes a fact — the ball crosses or doesn't cross the goal line, but video referral transfers the interpretation of the laws of the game from the referee to the VAR. Ultimately, the decision remains subjective.
The laws of the game must be interpreted in a uniform manner, but with the referee and the VAR coming from different countries — Nestor Pitana from Argentina and Jair Marrufo (VAR) from the USA for Portugal-Mexico, Damir Skomina from Slovakia and Clement Turpin (VAR) from France for Cameroon-Chile, and Mark Geiger from the USA and Ravshan Irmatov (VAR) from Uzbekistan for Germany-Australia, the application has felt muddled.
Inside the stadiums, fans and players have been left confused by VAR, with a lack of communication on the incident in question that has triggered the referral system. The system has backfired — it was introduced to curb contention in football, but has only enhanced it, so much so that even correct decisions are scrutinised. It’s a baffling consequence of VAR and the reverse of what FIFA wanted to achieve.
The governing body is perhaps too much in a rush to clear VAR for the 2018 World Cup, but plenty of fine-tuning on an issue that boils down to subjective judgment is still required, or VAR may well turn into an unwanted nightmare. At least, for now, it will somewhat halt the proliferation of technology in the game — one day every single decision in football may be reviewed, reducing the beautiful game to a pitiful version of stop-start ‘sportainment’ when the ripple of the net will no longer be celebrated, but a LED flicker.
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