FIFA moves to­wards goal of video re­view at 2018 World Cup

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

The goal of help­ing ref­er­ees with video re­view to make de­ci­sions at the 2018 World Cup has been fac­ing key tests at FIFA head­quar­ters. Two sys­tems among the 11 in talks to win the World Cup con­tract were un­der­go­ing tri­als this week dur­ing train­ing ses­sions with Europe’s can­di­dates to ref­eree in Rus­sia. An idea met with a skep­ti­cal re­sponse when then-FIFA Pres­i­dent Sepp Blat­ter pre­sented it in 2014 has sup­port from his suc­ces­sor, Gianni In­fantino — even if Blat­ter’s idea of NFL-style chal­lenges by coaches looks un­likely to sur­vive. It is not cer­tain that video as­sis­tance ref­er­ees, or VARs, will be ap­proved in time for the World Cup. Still, his­tory was made on Wed­nes­day with a first sig­nif­i­cant in­ter­ven­tion by video re­view at a Dutch Cup match. Willem II player Anouar Kali was sent off for foul­ing an Ajax op­po­nent one minute af­ter the ref­eree ini­tially showed a yel­low card. Here is how FIFA is mov­ing to give top-level ref­er­ees the kind of help that is stan­dard in Amer­i­can sport­sleagues:

THE RE­QUIRE­MENTS

FIFA wants video re­view only for po­ten­tial “clear er­rors” in four sit­u­a­tions: goals be­ing scored, penal­ties be­ing awarded, play­ers be­ing sent off and cases of mis­taken iden­tity. It needs a tech­nol­ogy sys­tem to help VARs and the ref­eree com­mu­ni­cate quickly with­out spoil­ing the game’s flow. Mas­simo Busacca, FIFA’s di­rec­tor of ref­er­ee­ing, be­lieves it should take “not take more than five, six sec­onds” to re­view an in­ci­dent. “If we need one (cam­era) an­gle more, of course it can take two sec­onds more,” Busacca told The As­so­ci­ated Press. In most sit­u­a­tions, play has nat­u­rally stopped and re­view time will not dis­rupt the flow. All in­volved agree that call­ing back play to im­pose a de­ci­sion not ini­tially taken is the big­gest chal­lenge for FIFA and its rule-mak­ing panel, known as IFAB, which must give fi­nal ap­proval.

THE TECH­NOL­OGY SYS­TEM

The DreamCatcher sys­tem de­vel­oped by Evertz Mi­crosys­tems of Burling­ton, On­tario is among FIFA’s op­tions. It has al­ready been proven in NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL games. This week at FIFA, two DreamCatcher op­er­a­tors worked in a win­dow­less por­ta­ble cabin next to the hedges lin­ing the soc­cer body’s com­pound. Two banks of screens — each to be mon­i­tored by one of two VARs, helped by a tech­ni­cian — take feeds from cam­eras around the ar­ti­fi­cial turf pitch that flanks FIFA’s of­fices. The largest wide-screen TV above the desk shows a live game feed. Two smaller screens at desk level show sev­eral an­gles of the ac­tion at a slight de­lay, al­low­ing the VARs to take a quick glance at an in­ci­dent. The VAR can ask to zoom in any­where on the split-screen im­ages. Each World Cup match has at least 30 cam­eras, but too many an­gles can slow a de­ci­sion. Though the NBA and MLB cen­tral­ize re­view op­er­a­tions in one lo­ca­tion, FIFA would likely want each VAR team in a truck or booth at each of the 12 sta­di­ums in Rus­sia. FIFA had set a two-year timetable and wants a de­ci­sion by IFAB by March 2018. “This has been the most thor­ough re­view of the leagues we have worked with,” DreamCatcher pro­ject man­ager Nima Malek­manesh said.

THE REF­ER­EES’ BOSS

Six sec­onds. In that time, Busacca wants his of­fi­cials to know if they must change a clear mis­take. That will re­quire ex­pert anal­y­sis and com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills from the VAR, who Busacca be­lieves should also be a FIFA-list of­fi­cial. “Ab­so­lutely. If he is not the same level, how can he change the de­ci­sion of the ref­eree?” said Busacca, who sug­gests video re­view could be a rar­ity at World Cups with only the best ref­er­ees taken from each con­ti­nent. “If you have a top ref­eree, one sit­u­a­tion ev­ery four or five games,” he said. Busacca in­sists video re­view can­not com­pro­mise the “per­son­al­ity and foot­ball un­der­stand­ing” of his of­fi­cials, and he is no fan of let­ting coaches chal­lenge de­ci­sions. “Never lose the au­thor­ity of ref­er­ees, never take it out,” he said.

THE REF­EREE

Bjorn Kuipers sup­ports video re­view within clear lim­its. “You need a VAR which you can trust,” said the ref­eree from the Nether­lands. “If you don’t have a VAR on the same level, it will be dif­fi­cult.” He fore­sees the two video re­view­ers join­ing a ref­eree’s two as­sis­tants and fourth of­fi­cial as part of a reg­u­lar match team from the same coun­try, speak­ing their na­tive lan­guage. “The com­mu­ni­ca­tion has to be very clear, very short,” said Kuipers, who worked the 2014 Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal be­fore go­ing to the World Cup in Brazil. “We have 10 sec­onds or 12 sec­onds if we want but it’s not good for the game.” Kuipers was granted 10 sec­onds ear­lier this month when Italy hosted France in Bari, and he made a key video-as­sisted de­ci­sion to show France de­fender Djib­ril Sidibe only a yel­low card for foul­ing Daniele De Rossi. The Italy mid­fielder’s team­mates wanted a red card. “Play­ers like it when they got con­fir­ma­tion,” Kuipers said, re­fer­ring to that out­come.

THE FIFA MAN­AGER

As FIFA’s lead of­fi­cial for tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion, Jo­hannes Holz­mueller over­saw the process of ap­prov­ing goal-line tech­nol­ogy and pick­ing the GoalRef sys­tem for the 2014 World Cup. Holz­mueller vis­ited the U.S. in Fe­bru­ary to hear from pro leagues about their ex­pe­ri­ences with video re­view. The 11 con­tenders in talks with FIFA also in­clude Amer­i­can firm XOS Dig­i­tal and HawkEye, the Bri­tish sys­tem used in Am­s­ter­dam on Wed­nes­day. The tech­nol­ogy works, and FIFA must find “a clear pro­to­col” for feed­ing in­for­ma­tion to ref­er­ees, Holz­mueller said. Coaches’ chal­lenges could lead to stop­pages to tac­ti­cal rea­sons, and re­quir­ing ref­er­ees to check im­ages on a tablet com­puter also ap­pears to be slow. “We have to look at, ‘Does it im­prove the game and not just ref­er­ee­ing?’“Holz­mueller said.

Mas­simo Busacca, FIFA’s di­rec­tor of ref­er­ee­ing, be­lieves it should take “not take more than five, six sec­onds” to re­view an in­ci­dent

New FIFA Pres­i­dent Gianni In­fantino sup­ports the in­tro­duc­tion of the video re­view Pho­to­graph: AP

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