KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Football’s lawmakers are edging towards allowing video refereeing at the World Cup finals but not with the ringing endorsement for which FIFA president Gianni Infantino had been hoping.
For the past year the head of the world football federation has been trumpeting his confidence in the application of VAR in Russia in June and July on the expected back of approval by the International Football Assoiciation Board.
The annual business meeting of IFAB in Zurich had been under pressure to recommend to the annual meeting in March that VAR be cleared for use worldwide which would have given FIFA a green light for the World Cup finals.
However the steady trickle of controversy which has accompanied testing, notably in elite club football with the best referees such as those in Germany, Italy and lately England, has raised doubts.
The last thing FIFA needs is for VAR to be ‘the story’ of the World Cup finals at which many referees will have had no serious experience of its operation in high-profile, high-pressure competitive football.
Hence the annual meeting, at which VAR topped the agenda, generated a downbeat statement which, in conceding a need “to ensure consistency”, said merely that “the need for a comprehensive approval process, with the VAR Protocol and Implementation Handbook, will be proposed for approval at the AGM.”
Approving an updated and refined version of the instructions for both on-pitch and off-pitch referees was hardly a gesture of confidence despite a “thorough . . . positive and encouraging” in more than 800 competitive matches around the world.
The stated objective of VAR is not to achieve 100pc accuracy but “to correct ‘clear and obvious errors’ and deal with ‘serious missed incidents’ in defined match-changing situations (goal, penalty/no penalty, direct red card and mistaken identity for disciplinary sanctions).”
IFAB comprises the four British home nations and FIFA. England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have one vote each and FIFA has four. A positive decision in March would need a minimum of six votes (though it is customary to seek a consensus ahead of a vote).
The IFAB deliberations were not helped by the enforced postponement of the business meeting from early December which left senior officials with less time than they had wanted to consider the various reports on trials.
Indeed, if anything, that time lag proved unhelpful for proponents since more problems arose with the high-visibility controversies aroused in England in the past three weeks in the FA Cup.
A likelihood is that the annual meeting will approve a continuation of the trial while agreeing to permit the widespread use of VAR. This would give FIFA more time to hopefully ensure that the communication snags are ironed out ahead of a formal confirmation of VAR’s debut in Russia.
The 132nd Annual Business Meeting (ABM) of the IFAB covered an extensive list of important items related to the development of football and how best to improve the quality and fairness of the game. The meeting was chaired by Zvonimir Boban, FIFA’s Deputy Secretary General.
The main focus was on the experiment with video assistant referees (VARs) which over the last two years has been taking place in more than 20 competitions across the world.
A detailed analysis of this experiment has been undertaken by KU Leuven University from Belgium*. First statistical insights on VARs from their report were presented to the members – a summary can be found here.
The Board was clear that the experiment has been thorough and the results from over 800 competitive matches which have used VARs ‘live’ are positive and encouraging.
To ensure consistency in using VARs, the need for a comprehensive approval process which, with the VAR Protocol and Implementation Handbook, will be proposed for approval at the AGM.
Furthermore, the Board discussed the positive reaction to the Play Fair! initiative and agreed on areas for initial or further testing.
A detailed report was presented regarding the two-year experiment of allowing an additional substitution in extra time, which has been conducted in various competitions around the world.
The Board received positive feedback on the changes to the Laws of the Game for 2017-18 and discussed the proposed changes for 2018-19, including a change of focus in respect of receiving information in the technical area.
The ABM discusses and evaluates topics and proposals in detail before making recommendations to the following AGM of The IFAB related to potential changes of the Laws of the Game.
The 132nd IFAB Annual General Meeting will be held in Zurich, Switzerland on 3 March 2018 and will be chaired by FIFA President Gianni Infantino. This meeting will ultimately decide the future of VARs and all other topics recommended for discussion and decision by the Board of Directors during today’s ABM.
Regular updates on the VAR project and other information related to the Laws of the Game and the work of The IFAB can be found at www.theifab.com.