ZURICH: The FIFA Club World Cup taking place in Japan from 8 to 18 December is set to become the first major football tournament to see video assistant referees (VARs) used in a live trial.
Every match in the host cities of Osaka and Yokohama will involve highly-trained VARs who can access broadcast feeds from a video operation room and communicate with the match officials to help correct any game-changing decisions (goals, penalty incidents, direct red cards and mistaken identity) that are clearly wrong. In a significant development that will be new for many viewers, the main referee may decide to review footage directly on a pitch-side monitor – particularly for subjective decisions, as opposed to factual ones where he can rely solely on the information provided by the VAR.
The philosophy underlying the experiments is not to achieve 100% accuracy for all decisions, as this would destroy the essential flow and emotions of football. The aim is to achieve ‘minimum interference, maximum benefit’, with the technology only being used for the defined match-changing situations and any serious missed incidents. In these cases, the question a VAR will consider is not ‘was the decision correct?’ but ‘was the decision clearly wrong?’
The IFAB – the organisation responsible for overseeing the two-year experiments – was quick to approve the proposal by FIFA to test the technology at club football’s showpiece event.
“The progress FIFA has made on this project, especially around educating referees and ensuring all technical requirements are met, has been impressive,” says David Elleray, Technical Director of The IFAB.
“We are at the final stage of our preparations before the official trials begin. The FIFA Club World Cup therefore represents an important opportunity to test the experiment protocol that each competition organiser will need to follow. We’ve worked hard on the theory; now it’s about putting all of that into practice and seeing how we can ensure the review process is as watertight as possible before live tests go ahead globally in 2017,” adds Elleray.
The IFAB is supporting FIFA on-site in Japan with the implementation of the experiment. Hawk-Eye has been chosen as the technology provider on this occasion. It follows on from preliminary tests in the Netherlands and USA as well as the international friendly matches between Italy and France (Bari, September 2016) plus Italy and Germany (Milan, November 2016). The IFAB and FIFA have also invested considerable resources to provide training for referees, bring technology providers and referee educators together to align processes, and organise workshops for football associations in Amsterdam, New Jersey and Zürich.
The IFAB has already sanctioned competition organisers in 12 countries to take part in the experiments including Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Portugal, Qatar and USA. Belgian university KU Leuven will gather and analyse data from the VAR experiments.
The IFAB hopes to make a final decision on whether VARs can be used in football by 2018, or 2019 at the latest.