VAR flattered to deceive in Russia
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