Is VAR World Cup Ready?

‘Video Assistant Referee’ has had many mixed reactions since it’s implementation in a number of Europe’s top leagues. Yet, FIFA president Gianni Infantino has recently announced that VAR will be used at Russia 2018 – a tournament already surrounded in controversy. Will VAR spoil our beautiful game, do we need it?

A number of high-profile ex-pros and pundits have spoken out against VAR recently – many once supported adding VAR to the game, however, after seeing it at work in English football, they, and fans have become sceptical.

Ex Ireland international goalkeeper Shay Given has recently stated, “I think the summer’s World Cup is too early to use it but they’ve decided to use it and the proof with be in the pudding.”

England manager Gareth Southgate also chose to criticise VAR after England’s recent draw with Italy – a game in which VAR decided the outcome, a controversial last-minute penalty was given by the referee after watching a video replay. “I’m glad it’s not the World Cup just yet,” said Southgate. He suggested that the decision “is one you can debate all day.”

Despite teething issues in the countries that use VAR, including: England, Germany, France, Brazil, Netherlands and the USA, FIFA and Gianni Infantino have gone ahead with the decision to use VAR in Russia this summer. There are many worries over this decision.

Many fans have been critical of VAR in English football, the games that VAR has been activated in, the fans who have paid for the privilege of being in the stadium have been left in confusion. There have been no replays on the giant screens and stoppages (for review) have been up to six minutes long. Former Spurs midfielder Jermaine Jenas was critical of VAR after Tottenham’s victory over Rochdale in the FA cup – “It’s comical at times, how long it’s taking and nobody knows what’s going on.”

Conversely, Infantino has addressed these issues. In the World Cup information will be passed on to “giant screen operators as well as broadcasters and commentators”.

Another issue surrounding VAR is that it undermines the referee – if an official decides not to go to VAR, they will be criticised and if they do decide to go to it – they may be criticized even more. VAR will leave World Cup referees in a impossible situation – with the eyes of the world’s media on them. Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino is in agreement, he stated how “It’s difficult for the referee – I feel so sorry for the referee”.

Furthermore, only 4 of the 8 countries who have implemented VAR will have referees active at the World Cup. FIFA seemed to have made a mistake in this decision. World Cup Referees will make the wrong decisions on VAR without experience. For what it’s worth, there are no English referees at the World Cup, despite these officials having experience with VAR.

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Another issue surrounding VAR is how it will upset the beautiful game. While VAR is compatible with other sports (Rugby, Cricket and Tennis are among the sports that use VAR), there are questions about whether or not VAR can fit into a 90 minute football match. Football, unlike other sports, is a ‘flowing’ non-stop game, to add VAR would change the fundamental workings of a match – players and fans alike would have to stop suddenly and wait for a decision, the brilliant atmosphere of the fans, a unique and perfect aspect of football, would diminish and the same could be said for the motivation and passion of the players on the pitch.

As well as this, many decisions in football are a matter of opinion, for one ruling can be interpreted in a number of different ways. For example decisions on, penalties, diving, offsides and ‘pushing and shoving’ in the box will vary from referee to referee and fan to fan.

This World Cup will be remembered as the first to use VAR – all fans wish for VAR to be a success, yet the issues surrounding it suggest otherwise. Will VAR take the fun, the spirit out of football? What ever will happen to those arguing over a dive in the post-match pub? – VAR will have made the decision perfectly.

By Greg Kennedy

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