KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- FIFA has promised a new system to resolve the communication problems which threaten to turn the World Cup into a video referee farce.
Last month the law-making International Football Association Board judged that two years of VAR tests around the world had rendered the technology suitable for use at the World Cup finals in June and July in Russia.
The decision gained only a cautious welcome within the game after a string of controversies over its application in major leagues such as those in Germany, Holland and Italy.
Only on Monday, in Germany, the players of Mainz and Freiburg were recalled from the dressing room at halftime because the VAR notified the referee that he should award a penalty for an incident initially unpunished on the stroke of the interval.
Once more, fans in the stadium were confused on the absence of clarity over events on the pitch – and in the referee’s ear.
FIFA officials have now promised that special efforts will be made at the World Cup to avert the confusion which turned VAR into the headline story of the group stages of the warm-up Confederations Cup in Russia last year.
The occasion was the start of final training at the Italian federation’s training centre at Coverciano near Florence for the 99 World Cup match officials. They comprise 36 referees and 63 assistants while 13 VARs have already been nominated and more will be picked from among the 99. Three of the 13 are Italian and two German.
Each match will feature the standard four-man refereeing team plus, in Moscow, one VAR and three assistant VARs.
VAR can be used in four specific, game-changing situations: goals and immediate preceding incidents, penalties and preceding incidents, direct red card incidents and mistaken identity.
Sebastian Runge, FIFA’s football innovation leader, explained how fans in the stadia in Russia would be kept up to speed with VAR incidents.
He said: “We know communications inside the stadium and outside is important. We are learning the experience of different leagues.
“So we will have graphics on the giant screens, we will have replays after the decision on the giant screens, and we will also inform the fans about the outcome of a VAR incident and review.”
A FIFA official in the VOR (video operations room) will tell the stadium screen operator and broadcasters as soon as the referee connects with the Moscow-based VAR. If the referee wants to reviews the incident, that decision would also be screened as would the decision.
However no replay will be shown until after a definitive ruling has been agreed.
Runge added: “If we showed what is happening on the screen before the decision, there would be some reaction. We don’t want the referee to be influenced by the crowd.”
A ‘Plan B’ has been prepared in case the communication network collapsesor is hacked. This would involve a telephone land line adjacent to the fourth referee.
Pierluigi Collina, the head of FIFA’s refereeing committee, insisted that VAR would be used only to correct obvious mistakes in match-changing incidents.
He cautioned: “VAR will not provide a final answer. There will continue to be incidents where a final answer cannot be given – the target is to avert major mistakes, not to scrutinise every single decision.
“I know that from the point of view of communication, talking about this, which is the big news, is very appealing, but I think it is important to underline the work done by the referees to avoid having to resort to VAR. Only then, if something bad happens, having this parachute will surely help them,
“In football the referee’s interpretation is very important relevance and there will continue to be episodes in a game which bring different opinions. The referee on the pitch must have the final decision.”
FIFA’s Swiss referees’ manager Massimo Busacca said he had doubts initially about VAR but thought now it would contribute towards a “great World Cup” in Russia.
Busacca added: “We have tried to give the referees everything they need, physically, mentally and financially. We have invested a lot in what we do. There are no more excuses.”