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VAR : Can technology actually improve world football?


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VAR has been one of the biggest talking points of the FIFA World Cup so far. It is footballs first attempt to introduce technology of this kind into the sport, following the example of other sports such as Rugby, Tennis, and Cricket who have all introduced various levels of technology to improve their games. But is VAR actually good for football?

What is VAR really?

Before delving into whether VAR is good for the beautiful game, it is worth understanding what system actually is. 

VAR is the Video Assistant Referee system and is football's first use of video technology. The 2018 World Cup is the first time the system has been used on a large scale. It's been utilised in several trials across the FA and Carabao Cups as well as in certain games in the Serie A and the Bundesliga.

What are the rules?

VAR is only able to intervene in the decision-making process of officials if there has been a clear and obvious error.

For example, VAR can be consulted following a goal to see if there have been any infringements during the build up. It can also be utilised to award or rescind penalties. In addition to this is can be used to award a red cards for violent conduct or dangerous tackles that the referee may have missed. Finally, it can be used in cases of mistaken identity. 

Ultimately VAR has been introduced to eliminate needless officiating errors and to make the game fairer.

Well, has it worked?

Personally, I think it has not worked. As with a lot of new technology its intentions were good, yet I do not believe it is being utilised in the most effective way. If anything the use of VAR has brought referees under greater scrutiny, rather than making decisions simpler.

Another issue is that fact that VAR has, in some cases, disrupted the flow of the game. You only have to look at England vs Colombia and the delay between awarding the penalty to England via VAR and Harry Kane converting the penalty. The delay from the decision to the actual penalty was unnecessary yet this can be attributed as much to the ineffective officiating as opposed to the technology itself.

According to the statistics at the World Cup a total of 335 incidents were checked during the group stage, which averages at around seven per game. In total 14 on-field reviews were made by referees and 3 reviews were made by the VAR team. Apparently referees correctly called 95% of incidents without VAR, while with VAR the success rate has apparently improved to a success rate of 99.3%, which seems awfully high for something creating such great controversy. 

Prior to its introduction at the World Cup, as previously stated, VAR was used in various trials around world football. Namely in the MLS, Serie A and the Bundesliga each of which were not without controversy.

For example in the Bundesliga offside lines could not be superimposed on pictures to help with narrow decisions. Within the MLS VAR led to New England Revolution midfield Xavier Kouassi being red carded, with the decision later being overturned by the league's independent panel three days later.

VAR is very much in its infancy but it seems it will always be a contentious issue. However, greater use may see it become more streamlined and effective as a system. I feel for it to really improve there needs to be clearer guidelines for officials using the system making sure they are completely competent in the system as the World Cup in particular has highlighted some shortcomings.

I can't help but think the VAR will ultimately be beneficial, as technology has been in other sports, such as Tennis, where hawk-eye was introduced. Also notably in Rugby, where TMO was introduced. In all cases opposition was always going to exist, it's only natural. Yet the best thing to give the system is time. Hopefully the benefits will be universally accepted as the system develops and the criticisms will slowly die away. 


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