LONDON (AP) Doctors could be allowed to watch TV replays of collisions from the touchline next season and then have matches stopped in response to growing concerns about the dangers of concussion.
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Medics would be given time to assess whether a head injury required a player to be substituted, if the International Football Association Board presses ahead with granting approval at its annual meeting in March.
Members of soccer’s lawmaking body have also told The Associated Press that they are looking to allow coaches to watch feeds of games on the bench for tactical reasons — provided they aren’t used to incite protests to officials.
Technology is currently only used for in-game incidents to decide whether or not the ball crossed the line.
But by the 2018 World Cup, referees could be allowed to gain additional information from an official with access to replays. IFAB is currently overseeing trials with systems that review whether goals have been scored, penalties should be awarded, players should be sent off and cases of mistaken identity.
IFAB members say they are not yet ready to approve the live use of video assistant referees, or VARs.
However, the March meeting will look to allow medics access to footage during games amid a growing awareness about the dangers of head-impact injuries.
England’s domestic rugby league is already trialing pitch-side video reviews of potential concussions.
“We understand from scientific research and other sports that have introduced it that if you have a much better assessment of the injury, it might be possible, when you see the intensity and the point of contact, to evaluate potential concussions better,” IFAB secretary Lukas Brud told the AP.
Under protocols introduced two years ago by FIFA, referees can already stop games for three minutes to assess head injuries.
“We have seen enough examples where potentially if the doctor was able to use video he might have made a decision not to put a player back on the field,” Brud said.
Incidents that result in a concussion might have been missed by the officials. But any replays reviewed for medical reasons could not be consulted by a referee until VARs are fully approved by IFAB.
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“We want to make sure whatever footage is allowed to be viewed is used for medical purposes only and there are no unintended consequences where footage is then being used for other purposes,” Scottish Football Association chief executive Stewart Regan, an IFAB member, told the AP.
It could take beyond IFAB’s annual meeting in March to decide whether to sanction the use of technological aids on the bench by coaches, including tablets with live feeds of games and replays.
There’s pragmatism within IFAB as it recognizes that it’s hard to curb the use of mobile technology.
“There’s still a little bit of concern in terms where we may end up with this,” Regan said. “Everyone understands technology is more and more prevalent in football and more and more coaches are using it – iPads are basically being used to replace pads and paper in many cases.
“The problem is no one knows if that iPad has a Wi-Fi connection and is being used to transmit images of the game. If those images of the game are used to put pressure on the fourth official or the referee then that’s a direction we don’t want to go in. We are still looking into it.”
Turkey coach Fatih Terim was ordered by the fourth official during a friendly against England in May to stop using his mobile phone on the bench in Manchester. Terim remonstrated with the official after England striker Harry Kane appeared to score from an off-side position.
“Everyone is using phones and tablets and the fourth official’s job is not to check constantly what is being used in the technical area but currently it’s against the laws of the game,” Brud said from IFAB’s base in Zurich.
“We don’t want to create situations where players and coaches are being sent to the stands because they were using a mobile phone … we need to focus on the behavior when using it. So if have coach with access to replays approaches the fourth official and says a player was offside, the coach can be punished.”