I’ll just come right out and say it: the addition of a video assistant referee (VAR) to the beautiful game is abysmal. The 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup is being used as an experiment for FIFA’s new way to make the right call. The VAR consists of three referees who have the ability to view replays of certain incidents and rule whether the decision on the pitch was correct or incorrect. They have contact with the center referee so that he can either overturn decisions or go to the sideline and review the play himself.
The VAR has been used a number of times already, and, despite the fact that it has correctly overturned some goal decisions, it’s proving to be a terrible inclusion. It badly affects a team’s emotions and momentum as well as adding an immense amount of confusion. We saw this in the match against Portugal and Mexico. First, Portugal had to wait about 20-30 seconds to find out that their opening goal would be correctly disallowed because of an offside call earlier in the play; aggravating the European champions. Then, after a clear, go-ahead goal from Cédric Soares, they had to wait another ridiculous 30 seconds. In no way should it have been reviewed, as there was absolutely nothing wrong with it. Portuguese players were left bewildered.
There was more confusion in the match between Chile and Cameroon where the VAR was used twice. The first situation MAY have correctly overturned what Chile believed to be the opening goal (even looking at the still image now it was a VERY close offside call). Arturo Vidal certainly believed it to be a goal referring the match official to the big screen where the replay was being shown. In the second-half of stoppage time…more confusion. Chile had to wait 30 seconds for officials to confirm Alexis Sánchez was not offside in the lead-up to the team’s second goal. Players, again, were frustrated with the wait.
Before the tournament, FIFA claimed it would take officials only six seconds to review an incident. Well that was entirely wrong, and today’s match between Mexico and New Zealand proved to be even worse than previous occurrences.
Towards the end of the match, a brawl ensued between a number of players from both sides. Once the center referee finally sorted everything out between the culprits, it was time to issue some cards. This was where things became a total mess. First, after an earful from the officials acting as the VAR, the referee was about to let New Zealand
resume play without issuing a card. He blew his whistle again, stopping play after a free kick had already been taken, and ran over to the sideline to view the incident himself. He dished out a total of three yellow cards when, clearly, at least one red should have been shown. In the end, this ordeal took a whole three to four minutes (just a little over six seconds I’d say). If you ask me, it was totally unnecessary for the referee to look at the replay himself or even consult the VAR. But, again, the VAR was implemented and led to mass confusion.
I cannot even begin to imagine something like this in the English Premier League. If it took upwards of 5 seconds to review a call, there would be outcry throughout the league. Players, coaches and especially fans would become irritated. This rule, if applied to any league, would be a huge blow for the game’s fast paced image. Like it has so far in the Confederations Cup, it would slow things down and, ultimately, lead to uncertainty from players, coaches and fans.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino wants to use VAR at the 2018 FIFA World Cup (hence why it is being tested at this year’s competition). I won’t stand for that, but if they do go ahead with it, it needs drastic improvements. First, a decision needs to be made almost immediately from the VAR. FIFA’s goal of six seconds or less is understandable, but it cannot be taking so long as to interrupt the run of play. These 30-second reviews at the Confederations Cup are dreadful. Second, using it too much in a single match is overkill, and it can lead to a lack of confidence for the center referee. I think with the incorporation of the rule we’ll see more referees either incorrectly make calls or lose interest in being spot-on because they know someone else can review it with more confidence. They won’t have the pressure that encourages them to get the call right the first time around.
With all of that being said, and even if they made the advances I touched on, I disagree with the use of VAR. Professional referees in the game of football are incredibly talented, and, just like in all other sports, may occasionally make some bad calls (it’s part of the game). In my opinion, the VAR is an insult to referees telling them they aren’t doing a good enough job.
While the group stage is still underway in the Confederations Cup, there’s no doubt we’ll be seeing more of this controversial addition. Whether or not improvements will be made remains questionable.