VAR flat­tered to de­ceive in Rus­sia

World Soccer - - The World - Paul GARD­NER

Ac­cord­ing to FIFA pres­i­dent Gianni In­fantino, the video as­sis­tant ref­eree (VAR) trial at the Con­fed­er­a­tions Cup was “a great suc­cess”. Hardly.

For a start, there were sim­ply too many hitches and glitches to per­mit such op­ti­mism. For ex­am­ple, when does – or, even bet­ter, should – the ref­eree call for VAR help? Sim­i­larly, when should the VAR team in­ter­vene on its own ini­tia­tive? Both of these sit­u­a­tions were left un­clear.

And surely no one will have been sat­is­fied with the de­lays that ac­com­pa­nied some of the de­ci­sions. Then there was the fact that game-chang­ing de­ci­sions were made but the play­ers, coaches and fans in the sta­dium were left in the dark as to what ev­i­dence the VAR team had used to over­turn the ref­eree’s de­ci­sion.

Ad­mit­tedly, these are all prob­lems that should fade away as those in­volved – the match ref­eree plus the three-man VAR team – gain ex­pe­ri­ence. How­ever, this will take longer than any­one is pre­pared to ad­mit be­cause the use of VAR is not wide­spread and there may even be oc­ca­sions when it is not used at all in a game.

There were in­ci­dents dur­ing the tour­na­ment in Rus­sia that cried out for VAR in­ter­ven­tion but didn’t get it.

For ex­am­ple, when the hosts’ goal­keeper, Igor Ak­in­feev, was beaten to the ball out­side his area by Hirv­ing Lozano, he kicked the Mex­i­can in the chest as the ball went into the net. With Mex­ico cel­e­brat­ing the goal, the ref can be for­given for not pe­nal­is­ing Ak­in­feev, but the VAR peo­ple must have seen what was a pretty bad foul and had plenty of time to alert the ref – so why did they not do so?

A much big­ger prob­lem lurks fur­ther down the line with foot­ball’s in­sis­tence, in both its rules and in its ref­eree in­ter­pre­ta­tions, on favour­ing de­fen­sive play and be­ing far too ready to give any ben­e­fit of doubt to de­fend­ers. This at­ti­tude can be seen at its most ridicu­lous in the mat­ter of scor­ing a goal.

As we all know, the whole of the ball has to be over the goal line, and goal-line tech­nol­ogy (GLT) can now tell us, down to a frac­tion of a mil­lime­tre, whether that is the case. So we get splen­did images show­ing the ball over the line, which any sane per­son would say is a goal, but the won­ders of tech­nol­ogy tell us no,

A much big­ger prob­lem lurks fur­ther down the line with foot­ball’s in­sis­tence on favour­ing de­fen­sive play and be­ing too ready to give any ben­e­fit of doubt to de­fend­ers

only 99.99 per cent of the ball was over the line. So, no goal.

GLT does not in­volve hu­mans but is an ex­am­ple of the how the use of ap­par­ently in­fal­li­ble tech­nol­ogy can be­come far­ci­cal. And that same bias comes through in some VAR de­ci­sions, which in­volve hu­mans.

We saw it clearly dur­ing the Chile v Cameroon game. Just be­fore half­time, Chile scored – but then the VAR guys re­viewed the goal and fi­nally de­clared it off­side. From the re­plays it could be seen that a kneecap, or maybe it was a toe, was off­side. A mil­li­met­ric de­ci­sion was made that was ev­ery bit as silly as the ball-not-over-the-line judg­ments.

Most wor­ry­ing of all are the de­ci­sions made en­tirely by VAR in which they ei­ther back up or over­rule the ref­eree on judg­ment calls. In the game against Aus­tralia, Chile’s Alexis Sanchez was clum­sily barged over by Mark Mil­li­gan, who failed to make any con­tact with the ball. No de­ci­sion from the ref­eree, and again the VAR judges agreed.

The logic here is that the ref­eree ex­erts his pro-de­fence bias in not mak­ing the de­ci­sion and the three VAR ref­er­ees, who in­evitably share the same bias, con­firm his de­ci­sion.

The dan­ger is that bad de­ci­sions are con­verted into good de­ci­sions – af­ter all, they have been cer­ti­fied as such by tech­nol­ogy and/or VAR.

At the mo­ment, tech­nol­ogy and VAR, which are meant to en­sure that the cor­rect calls are made, or that bad calls can be quickly cor­rected, are just as likely to work in the op­po­site di­rec­tion, by giv­ing an air of tech­no­log­i­cal or sci­en­tific cer­tainty to poor de­ci­sions.

Warm-up...the VAR team be­fore Mex­ico’s game with New Zealand

Un­pun­ished...Rus­sia keeper Igor ak­in­feev

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