The Controversial Video Assistant Referee (V.A.R) in Soccer


sebastian osea

   Since the Video Assistant Referee was introduced in the World Cup last year, it has certainly left a mark of controversy to soccer fans all over the globe whether one’s team won or not. The result was 29 penalty kicks called, which was 16 more than the previous World Cup. The International Football Association Board, the lawmaking body for soccer decided that the calls would be open to;Penalty decisions, Violations during build up play, red card decisions excluding second yellow cards and mistaken identity during red cards and yellow cards.

   Referees have a huge load lifted off their backs as the new system has allowed them to correct any errors or bad calls during which they will be informed of the decision by officials in charge of the video. The system was first used in a Germany vs England game in 2017 and is supposed to make life easier for the referees but is it doing the opposite? Moments in the World Cup suggest this as the system should have been used but ultimately the referee decided against it. It helped overturn 17 out of 20 bad decisions in the World Cup but it may be not entirely consistent. A video official may catch a wrong call but the match official, the one on the field may decide to either use it or not.

   Another advantage is the solving of the issue of flopping in soccer which has led to deciding moments in games. However, with the help of V.A.R, it will hopefully be minimized especially in the 18 yard box. F.I.F.A are however making baby steps, as seen in the Confederations Cup as the system helped make 6 “game changing decisions” and 29 “major incidents” the governing body claimed.

   The team of officials consists of three referees; the video assistant referee himself, an Assistant and a replay operator. The officials note the on-field referee if there is a questionable incident then the referee can make a decision to stop the game and  watch the replay on the sideline or not. If he chooses to watch it, he can confirm or overturn his previous decision.

   Apart from the World Cup, the VAR technology is being tested in other leagues as well. This includes the MLS, Bundesliga and Serie A that is, the American, German, and Italian leagues respectively  and now the Champions League but from the knockout stage after it was approved by the UEFA Executive Committee recently. It will not be used in the Premier League (England) yet but will still be tested as seen in a number of games such as Chelsea vs Arsenal in the Carabao cup.

   As much as VAR might be sounding like a good idea, it may bring the field referees competency into question. Referees might become more indecisive as they know they can fall back on the Video Assistant Referee to bail them out. Referees who make the right call, without using the VAR are perceived to be more competent. Also in ambiguous scenarios, referees who overturned their decisions brought their competency into question. It also takes a lot of time when reviewing a play, even though FIFA promised that it would have minimum interference. Other sports such as Rugby and Cricket which have (T.M.O) Television Match Official and (D.R.S) Decision Review System  respectively as methods of reviewing play have proven efficient and don’t bring any confusion. Also in these systems, team captains have a say and if this would be implemented in V.A.R, it may just be a success.

   In addition what if the on-field ref and the V.A.R ref have contradicting calls? This leads to an undermine of power of the on-field ref thus bringing further problems. After all, it all comes down to opinions. Also, what effect does this bring to the fans? If the game is perfectly refereed and there is no climax or heated moments, where does that leave the fans? Soccer is after all a passionate game and what makes it or breaks it are those decisions. However that thought will be left for debate as to whether it is true or not.

   In a nutshell, it is up to the fans to decide. Maybe if V.A.R would be implemented differently in a way that doesn’t waste time or take away from talking points of the game it could end up revolutionizing football as a sport but as of now they can only wait and hope for the best.