Football’s lawmakers on Saturday approved video assistant referee technology (VAR) for this summer’s World Cup, in one of the biggest changes to the sport in years.
The International Football Association Board (IFAB, meeting in Zurich, rubber-stamped a move already backed by FIFA’s top brass, including president Gianni Infantino.
“We came to the conclusion that VAR is good for football”, Infantino told reporters shortly after IFAB announced the decision.
He added that the final decision to use the technology at the World Cup in Russia will be made when the FIFA Council — world football’s top decision-making body — meets in Colombia later this month.
“We will hope and encourage the council to take a favourable decision,” Infantino said, voicing confidence that VAR will secure final approval.
IFAB said in a press release that the decision “represents a new era for football with video assistance for referees helping to increase fairness in the game”.
VAR can only be used when there is doubt surrounding any of four key game-changing situations: goals, penalty decisions, straight red cards or mistaken identity.
It has already been implemented in top European leagues including the German Bundesliga and Italy’s Serie A — along with tests in multiple other leagues.
Spain’s La Liga on Friday began training officials ahead of the technology’s expected introduction next season.
– Critics persist –
But opinion is still divided, players and managers have complained of referees being too eager to defer to technology, while fans in stadiums have been left in the dark as to why decisions are being made.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said this week that European football’s governing body would not introduce VAR in next season’s Champions League due to ongoing “confusion” surrounding its use.
Others have voiced concern about video assistance slowing down the game and possibly breaking a team’s momentum.
That is an issue confronting major North American sports like baseball and American football, where different forms of video replay have been in use for several years leading to renewed calls to shorten the length of games.
Some sceptics also have reservations about implementing such a significant change at the World Cup, before all the kinks have been resolved at lower-profile competition.
— Access to information —
But the desire to avoid disputed calls — especially in a competition with such a large global audience — tipped international football officials to support using VAR at this summer’s tournament in Russia.
One iconic example that VAR could theoretically have prevented is Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal that saw Argentina beat England in the 1986 World Cup.
For Infantino, international football had to ensure World Cup officials have access to the same images as fans.
“In 2018 we cannot anymore afford that everyone in the stadium and everyone in front of a TV screen can see within a few minutes on his phone whether the referee has made a big mistake or not, and the only one who cannot see it is the referee”, he said last month.
Representatives of the 32 teams that have qualified for the World Cup meeting in the Black Sea resort of Sochi this week voiced confidence that the expected VAR rollout would be a positive for the tournament.
“This is the new life. This is modern life,” said Iran head coach Carlos Queiroz.
“It is obvious that football cannot go on with its eyes closed to the modern world.”