Tim Vickery: A word of caution on VARs

Tim Vickery: A word of caution on VARs

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    By Tim Vickery

    South America’s version of the Champions League, the Copa Libertadores, plans to introduce video assistant refereeing (VAR) later this year in the closing stages.  One of the staunchest advocates of the video ref, outstanding Brazilian journalist Andre Kfouri, is concerned.

    He described it the initiative as “excellent news, but a reservation is necessary.

    “Although the technology for this type of assistance has been available for a while,” he wrote a month ago, “the testing of its correct application has not yet been concluded.  There is a need to minimize the impact of video decisions on the flow of the game, and nothing indicates that Conmebol [South America’s UEFA equivalent] have got this aspect right.

    “The worst thing that could happen to video refereeing, a necessary resource for the credibility of football, is the demonstration that it causes more problems than it solves.  As is the case in so many activities, doing it right is more important than doing it first.”

    These are wise comments, made all the more resonant by the opening stages of the Confederations Cup – and in the wake of the France versus England friendly in which it appears that a player was sent off as a consequence of the video ref overstepping the mark.

    It should be clear to everyone by now that the video referee is not the simple panacea that some had believed it to be.  It has the potential to be an excellent aid – but, as the early stages of the Confederations Cup are making clear, overturning decisions has an emotional impact on the game even when the right call is made.  This will calm down over time, as the players become used to the idea that a goal awarded may not stand.

    But perhaps the most important emotional aspect of the video resource has to do with the officials involved.  Most referees have something of an authoritarian streak.  Indeed, it would be hard to do the job without it.  The man in the middle needs to have conviction in his decisions.  Having to share that authority on big calls with the video referee will not come easy – and, an ex-official himself, the video referee may also be subject to the same degree of certainty.  The potential clearly exists for tension between them.  One wonders if in the future they might work together as part of a permanent team – just as referees now do with fixed assistants.

    It is a sobering point to remember that in the 1974 World Cup final, English referee Jack Taylor worked with linesmen who, for a start, were specialist referees and with whom he also did not have a language in common.  Taylor had to improvise a system of communication.

    Now the referee and his video back up will have to get on the same wavelength.  The precise procedure and limits of the video referee’s jurisdiction need to be worked out in advance and followed through in practice.  Attempting to rush this process will undoubtedly end in confusion.