2018 FIFA World Cup: VAR deemed a success!

By Jonathan Copping, Lawyer, Stone King, London, UK

The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia concluded on 15 July, with France beating Croatia 4-2 to win its second World Cup, and the tournament has been hailed a great success by the FIFA President, Gianni Infantino.

The tournament passed largely without incident, in part due to the introduction of the use of  VAR. However, on the biggest stage of all, the World Cup final, the referee for the final, Nestor Pitana from Argentina, awarded a contentious penalty in favour of France, following a VAR review. After Pitana undertook a pitch side review, he determined that Croatia midfielder, Ivan Perisic, handled the ball in the penalty box. Analysts and commentators generally derided the decision to award the penalty, as Perisic appeared to have little opportunity to move his hand out of the way of the ball and it was not a ‘clear and obvious’ error for Pitana to miss the handball originally.

FIFA’s Deputy Secretary General (Football), Zvonmir Boban, the former Croatia midfielder, who oversaw the VAR project for FIFA, declared in a statement after the tournament:

“As said by the FIFA President, VAR is not changing football, it is cleaning football, and this was our overriding aim when we started the VAR project together with The IFAB. The extensive preparation, both before and during the tournament, coordinated and guided by the chairman of the FIFA Referees Committee Pierluigi Collina and FIFA’s Director of Refereeing, Massimo Busacca, has produced outstanding results and I am proud to have been part of this team”.

FIFA President, Gianni Infantino, was equally pleased after the conclusion of the World Cup and also declared his pleasure with the performance of the referees:

We said we wanted this to be the best World Cup ever and it’s been the best World Cup ever. A crucial role in this achievement was played by the referees who excelled with performances of the highest standard.”

The introduction of VAR at the World Cup was originally deemed to be a controversial move.

VAR is not used in many of the leagues where the World Cup referees normally officiate matches and it was anticipated that mistakes could be made.

Overall, VAR proved to be a success, despite the debatable decision made in the final (mentioned above). It is anticipated that the next World Cup in Qatar in 2022 will also adopt the use of VAR, by which time the referees will have become more accustomed to its use.

It has been announced by FIFA that the 2022 World Cup will take place between 21 November and 18 December 2022. It was previously announced that the tournament would take place in winter, due to the extreme temperature in Qatar in summertime.

In relation to the 2022 World Cup, Infantino has made clear that he would like the tournament to be comprised of 48 teams, as opposed to 32. It has already been confirmed that, from the 2026 World Cup in USA, Mexico and Canada, 48 teams will battle it out for the World Cup; however, he would like this brought forward four years and favour remains, in communication with Qatar, about the prospect of expanding the tournament.

But, it is uncertain whether Qatar would have the infrastructure in place to accommodate a further 12 nations; not only will it require additional stadiums, but it will also potentially require a substantial amount of additional accommodation.

For FIFA, expanding the tournament early, brings with it huge potential increases in commercial revenues and, for that reason alone, it is easy to see why FIFA would want to expand the tournament sooner rather than later!

Jonathan Copping may be contacted by e-mail at ‘JonathanCopping@stoneking.co.uk’