By Jonathan Copping, Sports Lawyer, Bolt Burdon Law Firm, London, UK
On 23 November 2016, at FIFA’s first Executive Football Summit in Roissy, France, the President, Gianni Infantino, announced that he wants video replays to be used at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
At present, video referees, which have been a controversial issue for a number of years, are not used in football, although they are used widely in other sports. Video referees have been used in Rugby Union since 2001. Tennis also uses an instant replay system, known as ‘Hawk Eye’, to determine whether the ball has bounced in or out of the court. Rugby League, Baseball and Cricket also use video technology to assist with certain decisions.
If video referees are introduced in football, it is likely that they would be used to assist with decisions regarding penalties, goals and red cards. It is not certain as to exactly how the video referee will be used; whether it will be solely down to the discretion of the referee on the pitch to refer a decision to the video referee, or whether each team will have a number of challenges per match to refer decisions to the video referee. The former option would appear to be the more likely one.
Infantino stated that testing of video referees will continue and that tests could be undertaken at the Club World Cup in Japan, which will be held next month, and/or at the Confederations Cup in Russia, which will take place next summer.
The use of video referees has made substantial progress in football recently. In September of this year, in the international friendly match between France and Italy video referees were used for the first time to assist the referee. In Italy, the Serie A league is being used as a pilot scheme for video referees. During the 2016-2017 season, the use of video referees is being conducted in private to assist the referee with decisions on whether a goal has been scored; a penalty should be awarded; a player should be sent off; or for mistaken identity issues. Should the scheme succeed, it will be used as a live pilot during the 2017-2018 Serie A season.
With so many other sports utilising either video referees or instant replay systems, the announcement by Infantino this week is a welcome one. It is unfortunate that football is playing catch up with the implementation of this technology in sport, rather than being a pioneer.
The introduction of video referees will bring football in line with other sports in terms of technology to adjudicate on important decisions and will surely lead to less mistakes being made and fairer outcomes. That will be a forward step for participants and spectators alike.