By Jonathan Copping, Stone King LLP, London, UK
Confirmation of the use of video assistant referees (“VARs”) at the forthcoming World Cup in Russia appears to be edging closer after a senior FIFA official predicted its use.
FIFA’s chief commercial officer, Philippe Le Floc’h, stated in an interview with the Associated Press:
“Definitely VAR will happen. It’s great to have technology in football because this is also a fair thing. We are talking to various technological companies who are very interested with what we are doing on the technology side of things”.
The final decision on the use of VARs at the World Cup is expected to be announced on 2 March 2018 following ratification by the International Football Association Board at its AGM.
Over the past two years, VAR has been trialled across various competitions, including the Portuguese Primeira Liga, the German Bundesliga and Serie A in Italy.
VAR was first introduced in English domestic football in the FA Cup match between Brighton and Crystal Palace on 8 January 2018. The following week, the first VAR goal was awarded in the FA Cup replay match between Leicester City and Fleetwood Town.
Compared to other sports, football has been slow to introduce assisted technology.
Tennis, for example, has utilised the Hawk-Eye system in some tournaments since 2007 and Rugby Union has been using video referees since 2001.
The use of VARs in football is limited to four specific situations. These are:
(1) whether the ball has crossed the line for a goal;
(2) whether a penalty should be awarded;
(3) whether a direct red card should be shown; and
(4) in cases of mistaken identity.
It is important to limit the use of VARs to the above-mentioned situations, to protect the flow of the game.
If VARs could be used to review every decision that a referee has to make, it would be possible that the referee would be consulting with VAR every minute of the match and this would cause too many disruptions.
VARs work by transmitting a feed back to an offsite location (in England the VARs team is based at Stockley Park in Uxbridge). The VARs team then has the option of signalling to the referee that they believe VAR should be used, but they only have until the next time the ball goes out of play to signal to the referee.
The match referee also has the option of requesting an on-field review, by going to a viewing area beside the pitch to look at footage of an incident. Any players or managers will be given a warning for entering the viewing zone and players can be booked for insistently replicating the ‘square’ gesture to signal a VAR.
VARs have not been without their critics or problems since their introduction; and, in January 2018, players in the German Bundesliga responded to a survey regarding their use. The players voted in favour of removing VARs from matches.
The use of VARs in football is still very much in its infancy and teething problems are likely to persist.
However, when referees become more used to VARs, they should have a prominent, positive effect on the accuracy of decision making in football, as has been seen in other sports, for the benefit of players and fans alike, as well as referees themselves!
Jonathan Copping may be contacted by e-mail at ‘JonathanCopping@stoneking.co.uk’