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Can VAR technology make the World Cup fairer?


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Pundits have been critical of the addition of VAR to World Cup refereeing. England women’s coach Phil Neville has been particularly vocal in his disdain and during his BBC commentary on France versus Australia, Neville said “I don’t like it. I’ve not liked it from day one.” His opinion is shared by many of his peers but the question remains: if VAR irons out its teething problems, can it make football fairer?

The main incident of VAR intervention so far came when France’s Antoine Griezmann was brought down by Josh Risdon of Australia. The referee on the field did not immediately give a penalty but one was awarded after the intervention of the VAR team. Slow motion replays showed the incident to be a foul and the penalty was slotted home.

Phil Neville remained obstinate but his colleagues in the BBC studio all agreed with the amended decision. However, it’s also understandable that the penalty kick was not originally given. From the referee’s point of view, or just in real time, it was easy enough to believe that Risdon got a toe on the ball. The direction the ball moved after the incident made it appear, initially, as if the Australian had successfully made a legal tackle.

The fact VAR amended this decision then, surely weighs in the systems favour. A deserved penalty was awarded that otherwise would not have been. Simple, right?

Wrong. Things got complex quickly when a similar incident in the Argentina versus Iceland game was not reviewed. So could the technology designed to remove some of football’s constant adjudication questions simply be adding more debate?

What makes a decision worth reviewing then? That may be the most important VAR issue but there does not seem to be a uniform answer yet. That adds a subjectivity to VAR interventions that wasn’t what many had in mind when a technological refereeing system was suggested.

For a perfect VAR system uniformity is needed. The appeal of technological intervention is that, if it’s done properly, it could make football fairer. But football fans should be aware that teething problems may pave the way to a fairer game. 

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