Referee Mark Geiger uses the VAR system during South Korea’s clash with Germany. Picture: AP
Referee Mark Geiger uses the VAR system during South Korea’s clash with Germany. Picture: AP

VAR slowly taking over the World Cup

EVERYONE has always listened to Pierluigi Collina. You might recall him as the bald, glare-eyed Italian widely viewed as the best referee in the world.

When he told a player to behave, they generally did. Which is why his involvement since retirement in overseeing refereeing at FIFA has been welcomed.

Before the World Cup, Collina told the world's media that the introduction of those contentious initials, VAR, would not massively change, let alone ruin, the World Cup.

It would, he estimated, affect just a handful of games, with only the most key incidents re-examined.

After 44 games so far and 22 VAR involvements, that seems like the height of optimism. The video refs are playing a far larger role than FIFA ever dared admit.

Some of the intercessions have been horrendous.

The penalty awarded to Iran against Portugal, for instance, against rightback Cedric Soares for an alleged handball, would have been bad enough in real time.

The fact it was first refused by the referee, then given after review of the video, was absurd.

The major issue is that games are being re-refereed, the very thing that FIFA promised would not happen. Enough debate surrounded the penalty given to France for Australia to tell you that it was not a clear and obvious error.

In short, the VARs are looking at everything from scratch, not just seeking to overturn the so-called howlers.

If they think a decision is wrong, they call the referee to re-examine it, at which point the latter is under huge pressure to change their mind.

 

The VAR was meant to simply the game and make it fairer... In some instances it has had the opposite effect. Picture: Getty
The VAR was meant to simply the game and make it fairer... In some instances it has had the opposite effect. Picture: Getty

 

But the whole point was only to flag up the moments so clearly wrong that they prejudice the reputation of the game as a whole. Remember the view of Australia's A-League VAR panel member Strebre Delovski before the tournament.

"The VAR should only get involved if it's a clear and obvious error," he said. "In my opinion, if 20 people are in a room, all 20 have to say that's clearly (wrong) for the decision to get overturned."

Instead we have every key moment in the box re-refereed, unless you have an official with the cojones of experienced ref Cuneyt Cakir, who declined to give Argentina a penalty against Nigeria this week despite the VAR drawing a possible handball to his attention.

 

Many believe FIFA needs to clarify the involvement of VAR. Picture: AFP
Many believe FIFA needs to clarify the involvement of VAR. Picture: AFP

"It's trying to make the game perfect but I think football is losing a bit of its charm," observed Spurs and Denmark star Christian Eriksen.

"As a player you expect something to happen every time you're in the box. If someone falls down, you get nervous because the referees have to watch it back, and then anything can happen."

Luckily, the drama of this World Cup has been such that the VAR moments have become part of the theatre.

But FIFA needs to clarify both for fans and officials what its expectations are, or the re-evaluation of every decision will quickly become the norm.