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Is VAR the right direction for fair football?

By: Daniel Ofosu Dwamena
A group of officials watch matches from a centralised video operations room on different monitors
A group of officials watch matches from a centralised video operations room on different monitors

News of how the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) took centre stage in the just-ended 2018 World Cup in Russia was reported in last two week’s edition of the paper.

Throughout the tournament, the use of VAR technology generated interesting debates, with its place in the game being openly questioned following a series of controversial decisions.

The tournament is over, and the technology is in no way going to be swept under the carpet because it was unanimously approved by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) to be included in the Laws of the Game, and would be in use on a larger scale in major tournaments across the world.

The adoption of the technology is to support the decision-making processes of referees in the event of clear and obvious errors, as well as seriously missed incidents.

How the VAR works
Explaining how the technology works to the BBC, a Referees Chief, Mike Riley, said in an event where there were crises surrounding an infringement which probably might have escaped match officials, a group of officials from the centralised video operations room watched the match live on a series of monitors.

The monitors, he added, provided a range of angles to analyse the game and the officials communicated with the officiating referee if a potential error had been made or an incident had been missed.

In most of the instances, a four match-changing situation which included goals, penalties, straight red cards and mistaken identities were analysed by the officials with the aid of the VAR technology.

This enabled the referees to make informed judgements based on the information they received or personally review on a separate screen in the designated referee review area. 

Riley indicated that the intentions behind the technology were to reach correct decisions and reduce the impacts of inaccuracies that emerged from human errors on the outcome of games.

However, some football critics believe the technology works towards eliminating such disparities in the modern game only in principle, yet in practice, it provided reasons for scepticism.

Instances of such scepticisms surrounding the technology were present in Argentina’s crucial clash with Nigeria in their last group match.

With Croatia already qualified over Iceland to the next stage, a point would have been enough for the Super Eagles of Nigeria to progress as runner-up in Group D.

Marcos Rojo tried to clear his line and headed a ball onto his hand

This may have been achieved if they had been granted a penalty caused by Marcos Rojo after he tried to clear his line and headed a ball onto his hand because both sides were even. 

Bias officiating
A recent undercover video which was premiered by the ace investigative journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, revealed instances where referees in some African countries accepted bribes to fix matches in favour of a  particular team.

The expose led to the resignation of the President of the Ghana Football Association (GFA), Mr Kwasi Nyantakyi, and some football officials who were caught on tape engaging in unacceptable acts of bribery and corruption.

The paper then took to the streets to ask football lovers how they thought the VAR technology could eliminate biases in matches, including fixing and deliberate robbery of matches.

Mr Michael Mpare, a football fan, said the technology was necessary because it could review referees’ actions on the pitch.

“Even if a referee succeeds in taking bribe to be bias towards a team, the technology will serve as a point of reference for whatever decision he takes. You can’t bribe all the officials and bribe the machine too,” he said.

The future of football and VAR
Despite the scepticism surrounding the VAR, the fact still remains that the technology would ensure an element of consistency in the decisions of referees.

According to a freelance football writer, Luke Pawley, VAR was not designed to make decisions but to provide support for referees. Therefore, the aspect of subjectivity within the game would still remain, with the referee ultimately making the final judgement.

That, he said, would cause decisions to vary.

He added that on the whole, the technology proved to be a useful and effective tool during the 2018 World Cup.

Mr Richmond Osei-Bonsu, a football critic, added that despite the relative success of the technology, it was only subjected to criticism due to the time referees took to check VAR and the fear of football becoming fragmented like other sports such as cricket and rugby where similar systems were used.

He said moving into the future, interruptions to the flow of a game should be limited to maintain the smooth tempo of matches. — GB