KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Football’s lawmakers have approved the use of video refereeing which means it will be in operation at the World Cup finals in June and July.
The decision by the International Football Association Board vindicated the opinion of FIFA president Gianni Infantino. For the past year the head of the world football federation has been trumpeting his confidence in the application of VAR in Russia on the expected unanimous vote of approval from the annual general meeting of IFAB in Zurich.
FIFA Council will formally approve the use of VAR at the World Cup when it meets in Bogota, Colombia, in two weeks’ time. A statement after the meeting from IFAB described the decision as a “historic step for greater fairness in football.”
Infantino said: “As of today, video assistant refereeing is part of football. We hope and encourage a favourable decision in this respect because we are very positive about VAR.”
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.
This places enormous pressure on referees’ supremo Massimo Busacca and his training team to ensure a smooth, tightly-timed operation of the technology in Russia.
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).”
If a ‘clear and obvious’ mistake is spotted, the incident can be reviewed and changed. The referee, who has access to a pitchside monitor, can also initiate a review.
The main criticism directed at its implementation in domestic competitions has been an absence of communication for fans, the time taken over reaching a decision and hence the puncturing of excitement over goal-scoring.
FIFA intends to address this concern before the World Cup. Johannes Holzmuller, head of FIFA technology innovation said: “Our idea is that after the final decision is taken by the referee on the pitch we would like to show in the stadium the selected replay that was used by the referee and VAR.”
Confusion over practical implementation is one of the reasons why European federation UEFA has decided not to implement VAR in the Champions League next season. UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has talked of “confusion” over its application.
The Premier League has also balked at using VAR next season though this will leave it out of the step with the other members of the Big Five leagues since France and Spain will be following the lead of Germany and Italy.
Change of heart
Infantino, an opponent of technology when he was general secretary of UEFA, has changed his mind on the basis of the trial results in competitions around the world monitored by the University of Leuven.
He added: “I would say to the fans, players and coaches that this will have a positive impact. That is what the results of the study show. From almost 1,000 live matches that were part of the experiment, the level of the accuracy increased from 93pc to 99pc. It’s almost perfect.”
Infantino said he had been “pretty much against” the system until “we looked into all the details and benefits it can bring.”
He added: “Of course, we need to speed up the reviews and the communication to the referees that are applying it but also for the general public.”
IFAB also approved allowing teams to use a fourth substitute in extra time of matches after experimentation.