Video Refereeing and the World Cup
Pierluigi Collina of Italy is one of few football referees to be genuinely globally famous. His lanky stature and bald head have made him an instantly recognisable figure, but it has been 13 years since Collina refereed his last match. Yet, he is going to play a major role at this World Cup, because he heads up the global football body FIFA’s referees committee and this year’s World Cup will have a major change. Not to the rules but to technology. If the 2014 World Cup became famous for the use of disappearing foam to mark the 10-yard line, this World Cup in Russia will see the introduction of Video-Assistant Referees. The role of the VAR is to correct ‘Clear and Obvious’ errors if four situations - goals, penalties, Red Cards and cases of mistaken identity. The VAR for example will not be used in cases of simulation or diving. But Collina’s committee has already advised assistant referees, linesmen to older folks, that they should keep their flags down in case of a tight offside decision, because as he argues, once the flag is raised ‘everything is over’.
But what will VAR do to the game? Football, remains a relatively fast flowing sport, unlike cricket with its change of ends every over. VAR in critical situations might make this sport more akin to its American namesake - that is to become a sport with hundreds of hours of footage being analysed for every few minutes of gameplay. Trials of VAR so far have been fairly limited and it has not been implemented in any of the major football leagues in Europe other than the German Bundesliga. In fact, a match in Germany provided the greatest controversy so far in a VAR game when in game between Mainz and Freiburg the refree called the players back onto the pitch after teh half-time whistle for a VAR adjudged penalty to be taken.
Will VAR make the game more fair? Will it prevent wrongful penalties or questionable goals? Or will it hamper the game by hobbling it and making a 90-minute spectacle into a three-hour long one? We can only wait and watch, but on the whole if we have the technology we should always use it in sport.
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