The next topic covered in our FIFA World Cup Technology series is perhaps the one with the most impact in modern day Football - the VAR Technology.
A brief history
Technologies have been at the forefront of most debates in modern day Football, debates that have usually been regarding the extent and the limit of the technological aid in the game. The VAR stands for the Video Assistant Referee. It is supposed to be an aid to the on-field referee on matters that could be difficult to track immediately through the naked eye. The VAR has had its pros and cons since its introduction to the game. It has previously featured in top domestic competitions such as the FA Cup in England, German Domestic competitions, the Italian Serie A, and the Australian A-League.
Recent experiences with the technology have not been too impressive, with coaches, players and fans being apprehensive about the system as a whole. In some cases, it was about the sheer time being utilized for the decisions to be made, while in some cases it were the decisions themselves that seemed incorrect even after being reviewed. The system seemed confusing and at times inadequate. Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri even stated that matches could last “three or four hours” if the system was overused.
The VAR is making its debut at the World Cup and has the potential and authority to fundamentally change games. It could decide the future of the tournament, by reversing some of the most important refereeing decisions in the game, as has already been the case in a lot of games. FIFA has pledged to make the process smooth and understandable with the "VAR Information System" which will ensure that the broadcasters, the commentators, and the in-stadium infotainment operators are all informed about the reason and the result of the review.
How will it work at the World Cup?
A dedicated video assistant referee team comprising of a lead VAR and three assistant VARs will be located at the Video Operation Room (VOR) in the International Broadcast Centre Moscow. The idea is that each VAR looks at a different camera feed, informing referees of any mistakes or missed incidents, or when the referee asks for assistance. VARs can speak to the referee using a fiber-based radio system.
There will be a total of 33 broadcast cameras along with two dedicated offside cameras. For the knockout games, two ultra-slow motion cameras will be added to the fray. The VAR will work on the overriding philosophy of “minimum interference, maximum benefit”. Meaning that the VAR cannot make a decision on his own; instead will only support and aid the on-field referee who will have the final say on decisions.
VAR’s use has previously been questioned, especially in regards with the time taken to make the calls. For the World Cup though, measures have been taken to keep the time factor in check. VAR at the World Cup will only be used for Goal related scenarios, Penalty decisions, Red Card situations, and in case of Mistaken Identity.
VAR at the World Cup so far….
Used numerable times already in this World Cup, VAR has proved to be vital in deciding key moments and in finalizing decisions that might have been wrongly taken. France vs Australia provided us with one such scenario. Antoine Griezmann was brought down in the penalty area; the referee denied the French a penalty and moved on with the game. The VAR intervened. The referee then checked it on the screen at the sideline monitor and gave a penalty to France. Griezmann scored and put France ahead in a game they eventually won 2-1. Spain vs Portugal saw another such situation, Diego Costa on his way to scoring Spain’s first in a 3-3 draw looked to have fouled Pepe. VAR was consulted before giving the goal to the Spanish side.
The VAR was introduced to reduce referee mistakes; so far it has done so. The play-acting and diving inside the penalty area which would’ve usually been difficult to catch hold off are now tracked much better through the use of the VAR. The VAR‘s implementation in this World Cup so far has been impressive and it has done what it was initially meant to do. It is a good start for the technology on the biggest of events; hopefully, we see this used a lot more all around the World.
The VAR vs The Goal-line technology:
The two technologies have been massive inventions for the game of football. Technologies that have been more involved in the game decision making than any previously attempted. The VAR is a different technology to the Goal-line technology. The VAR is more involved in the overall decision making within the game with decisions including penalties, cards, and mistaken identities. The Goal-line technology, however, is only responsible for telling the referee whether the entire ball has fully crossed the line or not. If the ball has crossed the line entirely, the signal on the referee’s watch is displayed as a goal, else nothing is displayed.
The Goal-line technology, although game-changing is not quite involved as the VAR. Both technologies are inventions that were needed in the game. As it stands, the two technologies although different have been implemented very well and have stamped their authority on the game. Technology in football is taking rapid strides and it won’t be long before we see more such inventions shaping the future game.