Another Russian revolution
The controversial video assistant review system makes its World Cup debut in Russia, and Fifa is convinced camera technology will not only help referees reach correct decisions but encourage fair play and help the image of the game. reports from Moscow
FOOTBALL will be undergoing a revolution with the introduction of video assistant reviews (VAR) at the World Cup, with camera technology ensuring there will be no hiding place on the pitch for the tournament’s 736 players.
The VAR system, which has caused controversy and confusion during its use in domestic leagues, makes its World Cup bow in today’s opening match between Russia and Saudi Arabia, two years after Fifa first used it at the Club World Cup.
Tension will be high for officials of football’s ruling body in Moscow’s International Broadcasting Centre where a four-person VAR team – wearing full refereeing kit – will be installed at the VAR control room.
It is the second consecutive World Cup to see major technological changes after goal-line technology – long resisted at Fifa – made a successful debut in 2014 in Brazil.
For Fifa’s refereeing hierarchy, there is no doubt, too, that VAR is here to stay. Not only will it help bring about a correct decision in matchchanging incidents, but it is believed it will boost football’s image by helping to eliminate violent conduct, dissent and other negative incidents on the field of play.
Technology is being used to brief teams and players on the sort of incidents which warrant red cards. It will be, says Massimo Busacca, the Fifa director of refereeing, “an incredible tool for prevention”.
A video assistant referee team has access to 33 broadcast cameras, eight of which are super slow-motion and four of which are ultra slow-motion cameras. In addition, they have access to two offside cameras.
The cameras “will follow everything, that means that with any unsporting behaviour, serious foul play or violent conduct, it will be quite impossible to miss and this is the main reason of technology”, Busacca said.
Fans in the stadiums and watching on television will have to get used to VARinduced changes beyond delays while incidents are reviewed, if necessary by the referee himself looking at a touchline monitor.
For example, assistant referees on the line are now being instructed not to raise their flags immediately on a tight offside call but to let play continue if there is a promising goal opportunity.
This will allow an opportunity for a video review if a goal is scored, said Pierluigi Collina, chairperson of the Fifa referees committee.
“If you see an assistant referee not raising the flag it is not because he is making mistakes, it is because he is respecting the instructions that have been given to him,” he said.
The VAR position looks like becoming a specialist job. In addition to the 36 referees and 63 assistant referees chosen for the World Cup, the Fifa referee committee selected 13 referees who will act solely as video assistant referees during the tournament. Some of the appointed referees and linesmen will also act as video match officials.
And it’s a tough job, Collina said, which is why they are kitted out in their full refereeing gear despite sitting behind screens on the outskirts of Moscow.
“They are sweating. It’s not like watching a game on the couch while drinking coffee, so it is not possible to go there dressed as as a clerk, with shirt tie and jacket. They are doing something that is stressful, believe me,” he said.
Fifa believes some of the inconsistencies which marked VAR use in some major leagues and competitions have been ironed out, while acknowledging mistakes cannot be entirely eradicated, and there will always be incidents which are a question of interpretation.
“The goodwill of players is also needed. We are convinced. We know it cannot be an experiment here, we know we have to be ready, but we are positive, we are ready,” Busacca said. – DPA/African News Agency (ANA)
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