Football has always been a sport that is resistant to change, regardless of the form that it comes in. It’s inevitable for a sport that’s run by old white men. When it comes to the introduction of technology the issue becomes one that is amplified. Numerous other sports around the world use technology to their advantage, not only augmenting their game but also helping to make it fairer in the process.
Football, though, sorely lags behind. It took time and multiple mistakes, including Frank Lampard’s infamous non-goal against Germany in the World Cup eight years ago, before goalline technology became the norm. Even after that blatant error, there was still a reluctance to its introduction. Some still remain against it being used as part of the game today.
It is that resistance to change, and particularly the introduction of technology into the game, why VAR remains such a hotly discussed topic among the footballing community. For some, adding it will remove the debate around football, taking away the dubious decisions that have pundits and fans talking for weeks, months and even years after. For others, it is a much-needed introduction that not only makes the game fairer, but also drags the world’s favourite sport into the 21st century.
The evidence for those who believe the latter is there in abundance: it has already been a success in Europe, with both the Bundesliga and Serie A seemingly benefitting from its introduction last season. German football, for example, has already seen a near 50 per cent reduction in the number of refereeing mistakes compared to last season. The opposition remains, though, and that is why when FIFA announced that VAR would be used throughout this summer’s World Cup, it felt like a defining moment.
Convincing the naysayers
If the technology could prove itself in the world’s biggest tournament on the biggest stage imaginable, in terms of football at least, then convincing the naysayers would be a less formidable task. So far they have been given exactly what they would have been hoping for. VAR has not been a resounding success, but it has been a far more positive addition than they could have wished for. So far, five penalties have been awarded through the aid of VAR – none of which have been awarded incorrectly. Debate has still raged, of course, but the decisions were correct, at least when it comes to interpreting the laws of the game.
Away from penalties, VAR has also enjoyed success elsewhere, too. Iran vs Spain saw a goal correctly ruled out, Portugal vs Morocco saw Cristiano Ronaldo’s diving fail to earn anything, and Costa Rica vs Serbia saw a red card review carried out to perfection. Each and every occasion, including the penalties, has helped to demonstrate to the world of football just how positive VAR can be when those who know what they are doing use it correctly.
A nascent technology
Of course, there have been several stumbles along the way. Quite how England were not awarded a penalty vs Tunisia is anyone’s guess, whilst Argentina can also feel aggrieved at the referee not taking a second look at a foul on Cristian Pavon. Brazil raised similar questions regarding Switzerland’s equaliser, while South Korea were left wondering why a counter-attack was halted to hand a penalty to opponents Sweden.
Indeed, timing remains an issue for the nascent technology, with officials often taking too long to make decisions and causing long delays in play. One could argue that this is caused by FIFA’s insistence on having referees watching replays on the sidelines, rather than decisions resting with the VAR referee.
Communication is also still a concern. Fans, either sat in the stadium or at home, are often left wondering what is going on as the play is paused and officials converse with their colleagues in the VAR room. These, though, are minor issues that can and will be easily removed as time goes by. No technology was ever introduced without hiccups to overcome, and these are the ones that VAR must navigate around.
In terms of its application, though, the World Cup is proving to be the perfect testing ground for an update the game desperately needs. So far, VAR has proven to be a solid success and Russia looks likely to be the place in which its implementation into football becomes less of a debate and more of a foregone conclusion.