Friday 20 April 2018

Video refs get the green light for World Cup

A view of a Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system pitchside. Photo: PA
A view of a Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system pitchside. Photo: PA

Martha Kelner

Video assistant referees will be used at the World Cup this summer after a meeting of football's lawmakers unanimously approved the monumental change to the rules of the game at the top level.

The introduction of the VAR system means video replays will be used in Russia and rolled out in leagues across the world thereafter, allowing referees to review key decisions. Trials have been conducted, and there is serious concern it will undermine referees on the pitch, interrupt the flow of the game, and cause confusion for players and fans.

The International Football Association Board made the decision to introduce VAR at its annual general meeting at FIFA's headquarters in Zurich yesterday. Six of eight votes were required to push through the law change, with FIFA owning four votes and each of the Home Nations also having a vote. The English FA was known to be in favour of VAR as well as the Irish FA. The Welsh FA had some reservations, while the Scottish FA was known to be waiting until the meeting to make its final decision, although the decision in the end was unanimous.

It does not automatically follow that VAR will be introduced in the Premier League, with a number of executives at top-flight clubs known to have serious concerns about the technology. A meeting of the Premier League clubs will take place in April with 14 votes required to adopt VAR in time for next season.

Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish has expressed misgivings about VAR, which has been trialled in 13 competitive games in England, in the FA Cup and League Cup. It has resulted in six decisions being reversed, all in the FA Cup, but has also meant lengthy delays during games.

"I am very worried about VAR," said Parish. "I hate all those games that stop and start, waiting for a decision, and they don't necessarily get the decision right. We're going down an incredibly dangerous road with that. My real problem is that we've got it for five decisions at the moment, but I can't see any end to it. You know the answer for everything is going to be more VAR."

The video replay system prompted outrage last week during Tottenham's FA Cup game against Rochdale, with the technology controversially being used to rule out a goal and a penalty for Spurs.

The decision to use it at the World Cup will be formally made on March 16 at the FIFA Council meeting in Colombia. It is understood that all referees at the World Cup will have some experience with VAR, although there are concerns that the magnitude of the occasion coupled with a new system could cause some referees to be overly hesitant.

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