VAR Could Ruin the World Cup
The warning signs are obvious. FIFA's decision to use VAR at this year's World Cup could ruin the whole tournament.
The 2018 World Cup in Russia will be the first ever World Cup to use VAR (Video Assistant Referees), with FIFA stating that it “definitely helps referees”.
The governing body insists that they have tested VAR in more than 1000 professional matches throughout the last two years, and believe that the technology, along with a total of 36 referees and their teams of assistants will reduce the chances of controversy at this year’s event.
But after much confusion and ridiculous amounts of time spent making decisions in club soccer, there is a big chance that VAR could actually ruin the World Cup.
From A-League finals controversy to half time penalties in German soccer, the continuous frustration caused by VAR has often created problems rather than solving the initial issue of controversial refereeing decisions.
Thanks to FIFA’s puzzling decisions of handing the 2022 World Cup to Qatar and expanding from 32 to 48 teams, we were already concerned that this could be the last great World Cup, but now VAR might ruin this year’s event.
Below, we highlight some of our main concerns about the impact of VAR at the World Cup.
VAR Has Slowed The Game Down
Whether you’re a soccer fan or not, you can appreciate that a game takes less than two hours to complete, and apart from the 15 minute half time break, there is often no major stoppages or delays. But the use of VAR has changed this.
The German Bundesliga, Italian Serie A and the A-League have all endured major problems since implementing the use of VAR, with the technology changing the free flowing fabric of the game and frustrating players, coaches and fans who are being forced to wait every time VAR has to make a decision.
When a goal is scored, the scoring team and its fans celebrate, the score is updated and the game resumes once the players return to their positions. But since its introduction, VAR has often taken the pure emotion out of the moment, as the whole stadium and television audience awaits for confirmation.
Picture this, your team scores an absolute belter to take the lead, the players sprint off to celebrate with their fans, the whole stadium is going wild (maybe even a few flares), but then the referee makes the dreaded VAR signal and the game is paused until the goal has either been confirmed of denied.
Sure, the rules are extremely important and the significance of a goal puts pressure on the actual referee to make the right decision, but is it really worth ruining the flow of the game for a marginal offside call or an accidental handball?
A Penalty At Half-Time
In the most bizarre and embarrassing VAR incident, a recent game between Mainz and Freiburg in the German Bundesliga made worldwide headlines thanks to the awarding of a penalty during the half-time break, something we have never seen in any level of soccer.
The referee blew the half-time whistle and both teams headed into the tunnel for the 15 minute interval. But then, the VAR noticed a handball and decided to award a penalty, forcing the match referee to call back both teams from their change rooms and head out onto the field for the penalty to take place.
Pablo De Blasis stepped up for Mainz and scored the penalty, and the half-time whistle sounded once again for both teams to make their way back to the rooms for another half-time break. The fans were bemused, and many missed watching the penalty as they bolted out for a half-time beverage.
The tweet below also shows that the half-time sprinklers were already turned on!
In Germany tonight:
—Mainz have penalty appeal turned down
—Referee checks VAR and decides it was a penalty
—Referee brings players back out
—Mainz score the penalty
—Mainz fans protest against Monday night kick-offs at start of second half
— B/R Football (@brfootball) April 16, 2018
Meanwhile in Italy, where coaches are not afraid to criticise officials, VAR has been the cause of much anger throughout Serie A, with Bologna coach Roberto Donadoni recently perplexed by his side not being awarded a penalty, while opponents Napoli were soon given one, via VAR.
“In the first incident, the referee took the responsibility for the decision himself, maybe to save time, and in the second, he left it to someone else, in this case, the VAR. I would have preferred the same degree of judgement for both decisions.”
Italian giants Juventus may be soon lifting their seventh consecutive Serie A title, but coach Massimiliano Allegri has often complained about the amount of time VAR is adding to each game, warning that we could be forced to sit through “three or four hours” of soccer in the near future.
In Holland’s top flight last year, a blatant penalty was denied for Vitesse, and the opposing team Feyenoord immediately scored from the turnover and began to celebrate, only for the VAR to step in, award the penalty and rule out Feyenoord’s goal all in the same process.
A look at the replay shows the penalty should have been awarded and the right call was eventually made, but the referee should have been able to make that call in the first place, before the opposing team was able to score a goal and begin to celebrate. You could argue that it’s worth waiting for the right decision to be made, but as seen below, this makes a mockery of what is supposed to be a simple game and causes lengthy delays and too much confusion.
Leagues Not Using VAR
The two most entertaining leagues in the world, the English Premier League and the Champions League recently announced that they will not be introducing VAR next season.
The EPL is the most watched domestic sporting league in the world, while the Champions League is often described as the highest quality soccer competition, with a better standard of games than the World Cup itself.
UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin warned that it’s too soon to introduce the technology to such a prestigious competition, and hinted that VAR could eventually enter the Champions League after the concept has been trialled successfully:
"We shouldn't rush into decisions that are not clear. For me, I see a lot of confusion from time to time. But that doesn't mean that I'm against it or that I don't think it will happen."
Ceferin raises a sensible, well-balanced point, that maybe top flight soccer should test VAR and clear up any confusion before implementing it into important competitions such as the World Cup, the Champions League and the EPL.
VAR Would Have Killed the Hand of God
Maradona’s iconic “Hand of God” goal against England in the 1986 World Cup quarter final would have been instantly ruled out if VAR was used at the time. There is no doubt that the goal was an illegal hand ball and was a blatant (yet successful) attempt to cheat, but it gave the soccer world a sensational talking point which is still discussed today.
The drama of soccer and the importance of one goal, and one moment, is what makes the game so unique. Sometimes human error adds to that drama.
If VAR is doing more harm than good, then why rush into using it at the greatest event in world sport?
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