By 12 votes to 7, with one abstention, Brazil’s first division clubs decided not to mention the VAR – at least in 2018.
Brazil had positioned itself to be among the pioneers in the use of the video referee.
Indeed, after Corinthians’ centre forward Jo scored a winning goal with his arm last year, the president of the CBF (the local FA) announced that VAR would be in use in all first division games from the following weekend – which ran into obvious logistical difficulties, and was quickly forgotten.
But now there has been more time to organise the stadiums and prepare the ground. And so, given the fact that the first division does not kick off until April, what is the hold up this time?
Some of the clubs have justified their rejection of VAR on the grounds of ‘wait and see’ – that the effectiveness of the video resource should be judged in the World Cup, and then assessed. This, of course, hardly co-relates to the idea of Brazil taking a pioneering role on this issue. The prospect of the World Cup being used as a training ground for the Brazilian first division is faintly ridiculous.
But the ‘wait and see’ line is in reality little more than a smokescreen. Because the real issue at stake with the adoption of VAR is financial – how much will it cost, and who foots the bill?
As the old Brazilian saying puts it, the most sensitive part of the human anatomy is the wallet. And seldom has this been borne out better.
The estimated total cost of VAR implementation has been calculated at around £4.4 million. This, it appears, is five times the cost of the system in Portugal. Admittedly, Portugal is a much smaller country with a smaller first division (18 teams instead of 20), so the travel cost are greatly reduced and there is one game fewer per round. Even so, the difference is astonishing.
And in Portugal the bill is picked up by the local FA. The proposal in Brazil is that the clubs pay for the system – and this is the sticking point.
The CBF alleges that it makes no money from the Brazilian first division. This is an example of creative accountancy at its most deceptive. The CBF lives off the proceeds of the Brazil national team, and with rare exceptions, the players have all been at least partially developed in the domestic league.
The clubs, meanwhile, are pleading poverty. More to the point, though, they are victims of their own bad administration; making promises they cannot keep, sacking coaches on a whim and having to pay them off – and, especially, stuck in a ludicrous, CBF-organized calendar that fills up the year with meaningless, loss making games and prevents them from realising their financial potential.
There is a strident pro-VAR lobby in the local media – as a broad generalisation, Brazilians are very keen on new technology – and the clubs’ decision has come under heavy attack.
The excellent Andre Kfouri led the charge in an article entitled ‘VAR-gonha’ – a play on ‘vergonha,’ disgrace in Portuguese.
He rejected “the discourse of poverty from those [clubs] who claim not to be able to invest in the integrity of the championship.” This might be going too far. As early experiments are revealing, so many key decisions in football are not black-and –white affairs. Used correctly (a huge challenge in itself) VAR is a step forward, rather than a guarantor of integrity. And it certainly does not do away with controversy and disagreements, as many of its advocates hoped it might.
But Brazilian football faces far bigger questions than when or whether to adopt VAR.
Perhaps the biggest – when will the clubs gain the competence and willpower to form their own league?