Embrace the enemy: Video technology has a place in the beautiful game
In my research of this new Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology the first thing I came across on the Fifa website was: “Innovations are changing our everyday life. New ideas are the driving force of the football industry for improving comfort, safety and performance aspects for the players and referees on the pitch.”
It’s comforting that Fifa has finally woken up and is making a greater effort to keep up with advancing technology.
The 2017 Fifa Confederations Cup in Russia was used to introduce the VAR to a large football audience.
It was a test of a system “designed to assist a referee in decisions regarding goals, penalties, red card incidents and player identity”; a system set to make the referees decision fairer and as accurate as possible. It’s only fair, right?
Well, not according to many football fans. Lovers of the beautiful game were extremely frustrated by the referee who randomly turned agent with his one hand on his ear and standing still in the middle of the football pitch, not communicating anything to the players or anyone else but the other agent on the other side of his ear piece.
Fan’s celebrations and cheers for what looked like a clear goal, slowly disappear and are replaced by confusion and expletives. We know how heated it gets on the stands. It all seems too untidy and the lack of communication makes it worse. As an avid football follower I too was annoyed by the VAR. How dare they ruin football!?
Then it hit me. Why must another team be robbed of their moment in history because of my emotions. Teams prepare for years ahead of a World Cup and all that intense preparation must all go to waste because of human-error? Why, when it can be rectified? Just because you want to have a taxi conversation, a pub conversation. That, unfortunately, is one of the weakest arguments I’ve heard in a long time.
Maradona’s infamous “hand of God” should have stayed in the history books of 1986. Messi doing it three decades later exposes how slow Fifa has been in enforcing effective and accurate refereeing. When I look at the Umpire Decision Review System in Cricket, no emotion is lost from waiting for the correct decision.
Rugby is a good example. There’s so much emotion, passion and intensity all the time on the pitch and if you are watching a match for the first time, it does seem weird that there are so many stops in one game. But rugby fans are used to it and, boy, do they have many conversations at the pub.
In the 52 games of the U20 World Cup in South Korea, where the VAR system was trialled, 15 decisions were reviewed and 12 of those were changed based on VAR input. Seven of those were game changing. This is a clear indication that it’s about time football had a system like this. With the aforementioned sporting codes being guinea pigs of this problem-solving technology, surely the resistance to it is based on the human instinct to reject change.
With time the “unnecessary” reviews will be as normal as our former enemy, goal-line technology.