Like it or not, video assistant referees (VAR) are about to become a mainstay of the game.

The International Football Association Board (IFAB), which sets football's laws, has unanimously approved the use of VARs in matches on a permanent basis. As long as they go through a “mandatory approval process” via IFAB, sanctioned football competitions (eg. the A-League) can implement the review technology.

The decision comes after an independent study by KU Leuven University in Belgium showed that VARs had a net positive effect.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino said a decision on whether VAR would be used at the World Cup will be taken at a meeting on 16 March.

“As of today, video assistant refereeing is part of football,” he said.

“We hope and encourage a favourable decision in this respect because we are very positive about VAR.”

One of the concerns over VAR is that those watching are uncertain about what is going on, but FIFA says it is working on a system that will provide information to the “giant screen operators as well as broadcasters and commentators” about the reason and outcome of a review.

According to FIFA's head of football technology, Johannes Holzmuller, the idea is that the stadium would be shown the footage on which the referee on the pitch in charge of the game had based his or her decision. 

The aim from IFAB's perspective is to produce more accurate decision-making to help prevent game-changing mistakes while keeping the downtime to a minimum. Tests have shown that the technology can work - although the A-League's experience so far this season has not been quite so effective or efficient. 

Some others who have taken part in trials to date have argue that it still slows down the game too much, and that the process of using it is too opaque for fans. It is also limited by the nature of the hardware. In at least one match (between Portugese teams Aves and Boavista), the referee had to let a questionable goal stand after a fan inadvertently blocked a camera with a flag during the crucial moment.

IFAB said in a statement that the “philosophy” of VARs is “minimum interference - maximum benefit” with the intention of reducing “unfairness caused by clear and obvious errors or serious missed incidents”.

It added the incidents that referred to would be in relation to:

  • Goal/no goal
  • Penalty/no penalty
  • Direct red card (not second yellow card/caution)
  • Mistaken identity (when the referee cautions or sends off the wrong player)

VAR was first used at the Club World Cup in December 2016, and also trialled in the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup.

The UK's Premier League and Europe's Champions League have indicated they will not adopt the technology for their next seasons, but France's Ligue 1 is, and Germany's Bundesliga will make its choice on 22 March. 

Categories: News | Football Business | World Cup

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