The World Cup will Settle the Protracted VAR Debate

Few English football fans can forget Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal in the 2010 World Cup goal against Germany. Lampard’s shot bounced off the post into the goal and out, having crossed the line. If given, it could have been a goal capable of transforming England’s fortunes in the tournament. The controversy that emerged from the incident has the effect of changing world football forever. It reinforced the need for goal line technology to introduced at the highest level of the game.

A necessary evil?

Opinion is widely divided on the use of VAR — even on the the pages of Onside View. Past events like the Lampard disallowed goal, and a case of mistaken identity in a sending off in the Premier League, have necessitated the widespread introduction of the technology. This was a result of calls in many quarters for the introduction of a review of video footage of incidents in games to help the center referee get some decisions right after taking a second look. These are usually decisions that can directly affect the outcome of games.

Opponents, however, argue that the system is an unnecessary distraction and a waste of time. They claim that reviews slow down the game, or worse still, are far from clear-cut. The system is also shrouded in secrecy as fans and players alike are usually in the left in the dark during moments when the referee makes consultation with his video assistant. This, many claim, cuts short the excitement and free-flow of the game.

Behind the times

The use of video review for accurate decision-making is not new to sports. Rugby union has used Television Match Officials (TMOs) since 2001. The Hawk-Eye has also been used in Cricket from the same year. In Tennis, the Hawk-Eye was first used as far back as the US Open in 2006. But the first official use of the VAR in football took place in 2016 when it was used in a United Soccer League match between Major League Soccer reserve sides.

In a sense, then, football is lagging behind some other sports in its use of a video review system. Even at that, its introduction has been greeted with considerable derision and scepticism. Indeed, many analysts have argued with vigour that it is simply not suited for the beautiful game.

But despite the hostility in England, the system is fully used in the German Bundesliga, the Australian A-League, Italian Serie A, Portuguese Primera Liga, Major League Soccer in the U.S.A., and even the South Korean K-League. Its use in the Spanish La Liga and France’ Ligue 1 commences next season. In England, it was used sparingly in the FA Cup. The decision to award Brighton Glenn Murray’s goal was made after consultation revealed the ball came off his knee and not his hand, as protests from Crystal Palace players suggested. It was also used in the League Cup semi-final match between Chelsea and Arsenal but was greeted with criticism from several quarters.

It’s All About Justice and Fairplay

Notwithstanding its successes elsewhere, there has remained considerable opposition to its introduction in England. This has come from players and fans alike. But even though the technology has had its teething problems, no one can argue against the fact that when it does get the most important decisions in a game correct, justice prevails.

Former England national team manager, Fabio Capello rates Lampard’s disallowed goal in the 2010 World Cup as the biggest disappointment of his coaching career. “But even in this case, that injustice led to the adoption of (goal-line) technology,” he stated in an interview.

It’s easy to dismiss VAR when an injustice is in your favour. But it’s when a crucial decision goes against you that you really feel its pain. The technology is not being implemented in so many top leagues for nothing. It’s because it has real benefits.

And when it comes to the biggest football showpiece of all that the whole world is watching, it’s important we get things right. VAR may be one of the many ways to do so. This summer we will be exposed to the benefits — or drawbacks — of the technology like never before. Perhaps then, we can agree to settle this protracted debate.

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