Why is VAR being used at the World Cup?

FIFA has confirmed that despite the controversy and huge unpopularity of the Video Assistant Referees (VAR) system, it will be used at this summer’s World Cup in Russia after consent by FIFA’s ruling council – a body that many football fans think are completely out of touch.

The use of VAR at the World Cup, which starts on June 14, follows the International Football Association Board (IFAB) approving the technology following a two-year trial period. Yet despite this approval, is VAR really ready to be used on the world stage? What actually is it? How is it used?

VAR is the use of referring a decision to a highly-trained match official who is watching the game from a room, one that doesn’t even have to be in, or near, the stadium. In Germany, all Bundesliga VARs are based in one media centre in Cologne. They do still have to be able to communicate directly with the referee though, through a two-way radio.

To use the system, the on-pitch referee has to ask the VAR to review an incident. Although the VAR’s can’t review whatever they want, if they do spot something they think they should review, bizarrely, they can ask the referee to ask them to review it. Unbelievable!

The referee will draw an outline of a TV screen in the air to show everybody what is going on and then will wait to be told what to do; or they will sometimes go to review a decision themselves on an off-pitch monitor. So, after two years of trials, it is still completely unclear who actually makes the final decision on the incident.

FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, has to be braced for criticism, complaints and a storm of protests that could overshadow the biggest tournament on the planet, if the hooligans aren’t too busy doing that themselves. Although trialled throughout the world, its use in England has had a mix of reactions from players, managers and supporters. Many people inside the stadiums when it has been used have complained about being totally in the dark about what is going on while the decision is being made.

After trials in the FA Cup and Carabao Cup this season, VAR has been met with widespread criticism and Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino fears the technology could end up killing the emotion of the game. UEFA president, Aleksander Ceferin, has also said that VAR will not be used in next season’s Champions League, citing that there is a lot of confusion surrounding how it is meant to work.

However, FIFA president, Infantino, thinks the implementation of VAR is a necessary measure to give its own match officials as much help and assistance as possible so that they can make the correct decisions. He admits the system is not fool proof but is confident that football will soon reach a stage in which VAR is just another part of the game.

Infantino argued that technology is still a novelty in football, with every single incident drawing attention from TV pundits and audiences who dissect each decision. He says the same is not done now when players are seen to be timewasting, which has now become part and parcel of the game.

Will there still be mistakes? Absolutely; unavoidable ones, Infantino admits, so why are FIFA taking such a risk on using this system before its flaws have been ironed out? At least if referees make a mistake during a game it is largely down to human error – but when two ‘highly-trained match officials’ are still getting decisions wrong despite using technology, surely there has to be a better way out there to help officials.

This World Cup will definitely be making headlines.

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