Video Assistant Referees Are An Imperfect Improvement

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SOCHI, RUSSIA JUNE 21, 2017: A message on the screen reads "Video Assistant Referee (VAR)" during the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup Group A match between Mexico and New Zealand at Fisht Stadium. Mexico won the game 2-1.Artyom Korotayev/TASS (Photo by Artyom KorotayevTASS via Getty Images)

Modern football has transformed into an exasperating experience in recent years, with infuriated supporters rising from their seats in dispute with the decision made by the referee. From Diego Maradona’s infamous “Hand of God” goal back in 1986 to the bizarre “ghost goal” scored by Stefan Kießling just four years ago, the beautiful game has been plagued with human errors. The issue has been widely recognised, igniting the introduction of Video Assistant Referees (VAR) just last year, and it is widely believed that this could be the permanent solution to erroneous decisions.

In truth, it is never as simple as that. It is tremendously difficult to envisage a sport which is dictated by technology. The unpredictable nature of the game if what makes it enjoyable, yet these verdicts remove the iconic moments which shape the sport and prevent it from becoming monotonous.

Another concern with the introduction is that, quite frankly, the system is perplexing. Following the 2016 Club World Cup Final where the system was initially trialled, Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane labelled it as a source of confusion.

Every incident is unique. It is inevitable that there will be some occassions where incidents fail to suit the basic criteria of which events may be reviewed. The communication to the supporters is currently deplorable. Bewilderment surrounds the stadium each time there is a long delay, and FIFA must improve the way they convey the decision to those spectating.

Interrupting the game to examine these incidents will result in wasted minutes. Enough is already wasted through injuries, set pieces and other moments within a game. These long delays are going to eat away at the game. What’s more, disturbing the tempo could potentially favour the winning team during the opposition’s arduous attempt to claw back a goal. Even if it is too soon to know whether this is the case or not, it remains a possibility that Video Assistant Referees may provide an unfair advantage to one side over their opponent.

There is also a growing sense that the referee may become dependent on his colleague. In June’s internationally friendly between France and England, the referee hastily dismissed Raphaël Varane and awarded a controversial penalty for a foul on Dele Alli following advice from his associate. The role of the referee requires confidence in his own ability. There is a chance that officials may become vulnerable to player abuse and feel obliged to reassess their decision. Ultimately, the referee must have the final decision.

Video assistant referees have been successful in some cases. It was only recently in the Confederations Cup that the technology was used to deny Portugal’s Pepe an offside goal during their 2-2 draw with Mexico, as well as Eduardo Vargas being refused a goal for Chile against Cameroon.

Still, what if the referee makes the wrong decision? Tomi Juric appeared to handle the ball in the build-up to his goal for Australia against Germany. Subsequent to VAR consultation, the goal was certified to the horror of many viewers.

Moreover, there was controversy during Germany’s game with Cameroon. After Ernest Mabouka fouled Emre Can, the referee wrongly awarded a yellow card to a stunned Sebastien Siani. The referee then consulted his assistant, and then gave a red card to Siani instead. Once again, there was uproar in the stadium and the man in the middle conferred with his video assistant and Mabouka was sent off. In total, three minutes of playing time were wasted as a result of this chaos.

One straightforward yet execrable choice made by an official can ruin the outcome of a fixture – the game has been crying out for a change to eradicate poor officiating. It is no wonder as to why FIFA’s president Gianni Infantino hails the system as “the future of modern football.”

Though imperfect, Video Assistant Referees are an improvement to ensuring a fairer conclusion to every game. Expect them to be more commonly used in the sport—perhaps next year’s World Cup in Russia—following their recent successes over the past year. Regardless, they encapsulate too many flaws and are not the permanent solution unless they are changed for the better.

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