Partially for political reasons and partially to help push the game into the 21st century, FIFA announced last March that it was bringing video assistant refereeing to all World Cup games.
This comes after two-to-three seasons of testing and use, from youth competitions like the FIFA Under-20 World Cup to uses in MLS, USL, and this season in the Bundesliga and Serie A. Of course, the Premier League has only been using goal-line technology, and teams last month voted to keep VAR out of the Premier League due to controversies across the world.
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On paper, replay is only to be used when the video assistant referee sees a “clear and obvious” error from the center referee on one of four game-changing plays; Goals, penalty kicks, red cards and cases of mistaken identity.
In practice, we’ve seen referees, either through intimidation from one set of players or just human error, fail to correct a mistaken call even after video evidence, and do it in a timely manner.
It’s clear that across the world, the process on how to come to the fairest and clearest decision is still being fine tuned. That’s why it feels like VAR is coming to the World Cup a little too early.
Count me in as being in favor of getting the right call, even if it takes the sting out of the game a little bit and forces a delay. But the delay shouldn’t last more than 120-180 seconds. It it is really clear and obvious, it shouldn’t take many replay angles for the referee to realize the correct decision, run to the middle of the park and make the call.
One worry at the World Cup is that many of the players taking part won’t have experience using VAR, and as such, they won’t understand why the referee would review one situation over another. This could lead to extended delays as teams crowd the referee, demanding a review of a controversial decision, even if that decision is protected in the laws of the game as one made solely by the referee team on the field.
In addition, another issue is that the VAR squads will rotate between refereeing crews, as opposed to building up a relationship with a specific referee crew. This could lead to communication issues as well as a lack of understanding between the referee crews, who don’t have a lot of time before the World Cup to get to know one another.
Ultimately, World Cups are always memorable for controversies, and with the VAR’s early introduction to the 2018 World Cup, we’ll likely have a VAR-related controversy instead of using VAR to solve a clear and obvious error.