The all-seeing eye, now in football

Nikhil Bhave
Sunday, 1 July 2018

Like any other contact sports, football has its shares of tumbles, shoves, blatant fouls and outright diving

The current World Cup football is notable for one more thing. This is the first time we are seeing what can technically be the equivalent of the third umpire in cricket-VAR or video-assisted refereeing. The results so far are…staggering, to say the least. 

Like any other contact sports, football has its shares of tumbles, shoves, blatant fouls and outright diving. It is also a sport where mere contact does not call for a foul, too. One famous current Brazilian footballer is so infamous for diving that he has turned into a meme called ‘this post injured….’ And the refereeing is always suspect, after all the referee is also a human with biases, and players/managers do not always like it when things going in favour of them are suddenly reversed, thanks to a machine. Ask Zinedine Zidane. 

Hence, after the announcement for deployment of VAR was made, it received a mixed response. On one hand, coaches and players have been vocally critical against the system throughout the tournament. Portugal defender Jose Fonte described the technology as "unacceptable", while Spain midfielder Thiago Alcantara said using the system "loses a little essence of football". And the statistics have also been eye-opening. 

As the group stage of the tournament came to a close, the number of awarded penalties stood at 24, smashing the previous World Cup record. Of these, seven involved VAR, while the technology was used for an average of 6.9 incidents per game. FIFA's data indicates VAR was used to overturn 14 decisions on review, while three confirmed the on-pitch call by the referee. 

As for FIFA, ESPN reported: FIFA's referee committee head Pierluigi Collina has claimed that 99.3 percent of "match-changing" decisions were called correctly at the World Cup -- "very, very close to perfection" -- based on assessments by him and other senior ex-referees. Without VAR, the figure would be 95 percent, Collina said. 

Yet, there is the confirmation that there is still a 0.7 per cent gap for accuracy, and that is proving to be a vexing point. Here is how the process works, per an AFP story; As the International Football Association Board (IFAB), the guardians of the laws of the game, say, only the referee can initiate a review. 

One of the officials in the Video Assistant Referee team sees an incident and tells the referee, who then decides whether to review it. But there are drawbacks, too. A slowed-down display can make the foul much more severe. Also, it kills the flow of the game. 

Then there is the shadow of digitalisation. Football touted as a working man’s game has grown into a behemoth thanks to the advent of digitisation. VAR is definitive in a twisted way. There can be no arguments, which are one of the key post-match events. It sounds silly on paper but is a very emotional issue for many. The question is, what to do? 

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