Enrique Carceres kissed the whistle and temporarily ruined Crisitiano Ronaldo’s trademark celebration after scoring past Club America’s goal keeper in injury time at the Club World Cup in Tokyo Japan. The Paraguayan referee went into consultation with the video assistant referee to review the footage of CR7’s goal who appeared to have scored the goal in an off-side position. The goal was eventually allowed to stand after a long wait. In the previous day the game between Japanese team Kashima Antlers and Colombia’s Atletico Nacional, where video evidence was used for the first time in a FIFA competition, a penalty was awarded to Kashima. FIFA was using the Club World Cup as a trial of the video assistant referee (VAR) technology. The technology involves off-field VARs monitoring the game and calling the attention of the referee in “match-changing” situations such as goals, penalty decisions, mistaken identity and red cards.
In the Kashima-Atletico game Daigo Naishi was tangled in the box by an Atletico National player, the referee Victor Kasai had not seen the incident so he ran to the touchline to watch a replay of what happened. 30 seconds later he pointed to the box amidst protests from the Atletico players. Shoumi Doi’s name will now be remembered for years to come as he made history by scoring from 12 yards after benefitting from the VAR technology. The Asian side went on to win 3-0 at the Suitar City Stadium to qualify for the final (losing to Real Madrid). There was anger and confusion from fans especially because after the infringement play continued for about 45 seconds and it was only after the ball went out for a throw-in that the referee sought the opinion of the video assistant referee. 45 seconds in football is a lot of time and anything can happen. There are several questions we will have to ask including; what is the reasonable time before the referee makes a decision to refer to the VAR? Does the ball have to go out for the referee to temporarily halt the game to refer to the VAR?
The International Football Association Board (IFAB) which is the sport’s law-making body has called for calm as the technology is at the testing stage. “Referees do not have to wait until the ball goes out of play-they can stop the game for a review as soon as the ball is in a ‘neutral’ area i.e when neither team has a good attacking possibility,” said David Elleray, IFAB technology director. This alone raises even more questions. What if in the case of Kashima-Atletico game Atletico went on to score during the 45 seconds after the infringement and then the VAR decision was made after and somehow Shoumi Doi misses the penalty which is the last kick of the game? How unfair would that be?
Players, coaches, pundits and fans have come out to show their disappointment over VAR especially after the Ronaldo goal and the Kashima penalty confusion.”If you ask me my personal impression it can cause confusion,” said Real Madrid coach Zinedine ZIdane after the Club World Cup semi-final.
In a nutshell FIFA have decided to do several trials of the VAR technology where video replays are used to help the referee make certain decisions. In the coming years the video technology will be used in all FIFA competitions. The referee will be able to review footage on a pitch-side with the help of a VAR (video assistant referee)-stationed at pitchside, watching the game on a monitor- who alerts the center referee to help “correct mistakes” in potential “match-changing “ situation including goals, penalty calls and direct red cards. As football fans we hope this technology that “represents a big step forward” in football like FIFA’s chief of technical development Marco Van Basten calls it will not kill the beautiful game. Over ‘technologizing’ football may kill the thrill and atmosphere of a football game. Traditionalists like me prefer the human eye. With technology like the goal-line technology and now the VAR system there will be less debates for decades such as the ‘hand of god’ goal Argentine’s legend Diego Maradona scored against England. We now look forward to a rugby-like 90 minutes of football where after every goal we will have to set our eyes in the big screen to watch the replay and wait for the ref’s decision before we remove our shirts , scream our lungs out and punch the air in celebration. Football will in the future be a game of technology just like it is playing ‘FIFA’ on a Play Station game. Long live the beautiful game.
BY NABIL FELIX
This article appears in our weekly digital law magazine, The Deuteronomy Vol 9, Issue 4 of December 23rd 2016 under the title, Video Technology in football: Will the VAR system kill the beautiful game?
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