VAR and away the best system: it just needs refs to wise up
Video Assistant Referee technology is subject to one overarching problem: human interpretation
When soccer finally decided to extract itself from the Stone Age and use technology, the repercussions registered on the Richter Scale.
For all its fluidity and popularity, the sport simply refused to move with the times and countless times fell victim to human error that made the game what it is. While mistakes will always be part of sport, them deciding the fate of a team in a high-stakes tournament could not be risked further.
This brings us to the matter of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) that has got football fans in rapture and rancour in equal measure.
For starters, cricket has the third umpire and the decision review system that is used at the discretion of the on-field captains, while rugby has the television match official which for all intents and purposes remains a brilliant concept.All these technologies though are subject to one overarching problem: human interpretation. There have been countless times where technology has been clouded by the fallibility of human judgment, and that is where the VAR comes in. All the information is in front of you. All that is needed is for the right decision to be made regardless of the stage and the emotion.
Elite sports that generate billions of financial currency need the best technology available to ensure the right decisions are made, for the game can no longer be held hostage by human errors when technology can aid decision making.
The issue lies with the match officials and not the available technology. Is it the video replays that make the decisions? No. The replays are there to highlight the possible transgressions and, more importantly, how the relevant law should be applied. The operative word here is applied because the rules of the game, while straightforward at best, have been subject to a match official’s interpretation at the time of the said transgression.
Interpretation is currently the bane of the rugby world because of match officials who, through their mother body, World Rugby, and their various regional bodies, have zero accountability and seemingly interpret rules instead of applying the letter of the law.If there is anger towards the VAR, it should be directed at those manning the system instead of the system itself.
Also, it would help viewers a lot more if, like rugby, viewers could hear how the match officials reached their decision.
It could have provided clarity in the confusing decisions seen in the Iran/Portugal and Argentina/Nigeria World Cup games where interpretation reared its ugly head.
In the former fixture, what looked like an inadvertent ball to hand mistake was given as a penalty and changed the shape of Group B, while Marcos Rojo’s similar ball to hand incident was given a let-off.
What did the match officials discuss? Was there intent to handle the ball? Was Spanish forward Iago Aspas indeed the last man when he played the ball before he equalised against Morocco?
These questions could have been answered if match officials shared their views with viewers. Fans at the stadiums are benefiting from Fifa’s relaxed rules with replays being shown but match officials also have to be strong in terms of dealing with players who will want everything under the sun to be reviewed.
Make no mistake, VAR must be here to stay and it is an efficient system. It is the match officials who need to get with the programme. Call out the cavalry on the referees and not the technology that strives to improve the game and ensure the best team wins.