Don’t Go Too VAR With Replay

VAR. The very name is ominous and full of mystery and intrigue. The Video Assistant Referee system reviews decisions made by the head referee with the use of video footage and a headset for communication. A team consisting of at least three officials monitor and review games from either on site stadium locations or offices with large plasma televisions. Currently there are four types of calls that can be reviewed:

  1. Goals and whether there was a violation in the buildup
  2. Penalty decisions
  3. Red card incidents (note that second yellow cards are not reviewable)
  4. Mistaken identity in awarding a red or yellow card

The International Football Association Board (IFAB), the body that determines the Laws of the Game, approved the use of video referees in trials during its June 2006 meeting. A live trial of the VAR system began in August 2016 with a United Soccer League (USL) match between two Major League Soccer reserve sides. The following month it was used during an international friendly between France and Italy.

The A-League in Australia became the first to use a VAR system in a professional league game on April 7th, 2017. Major League Soccer, the Bundesliga and Serie A are currently using the system in their respective leagues. On November 10th, 2017 during the England friendly against Germany at Wembley Stadium, it was used for the first time in an official game in the United Kingdom. January 8th, 2018 will undoubtedly go down in history as it makes its debut in the FA Cup match between Brighton & Hove Albion and Crystal Palace. Italy will open the world's first VAR training center in Coverciano, the technical headquarters of the Italian Football Federation. The big test will be when it is used In Russia for World Cup 2018.

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The official signal for a video review is by the referee making the outline of a rectangle with his index fingers (indicating a video screen). Players who demand a video review by making the rectangular gesture are to be cautioned with a yellow card.

Soccer is at an extremely important crossroad and must take very careful steps in how they implement this technology. In its current form it seems to be working pretty well, the delays are not long at all and 99% of the time they correct the mistakes accurately, which is great for the sport and the fans. Being a former referee at a professional level, I'm well aware of the mental dangers this poses for officials. Being thick skinned is part of the job description and nobody likes being second guessed. The mindset of a referee must be simple with VAR:  I'm going to make mistakes, just like the players and if someone can help me correct a wrong or injustice, it is good for the spirit and integrity of the sport. I will not let my ego get in the way of someone reversing one of my decisions and I will simply adapt and move on to the next play. In reality, what's the most important play in soccer? The next play.

Obviously human error in officiating has been a part of every sport dating back to when men and women first started competing and the old school side of me wishes there was never any instant replay or review of any kind. Alas, we can't go back in time and not use this technology that is available. Now comes the tricky part ; soccer absolutely has to avoid the pitfalls that have haunted the NFL and their current review system. American football is a nightmare to watch right now, the officials, the commentators, and the fans tediously breaking down a reception frame by frame only to realize nobody knows what the hell constitutes a catch anymore. In their haste to get the calls correct (which they for sure don't some of the time ), they do this not for the good of the sport but for the millions of dollars being wagered on every contest. They have unwittingly created a monster, a "FRANKENREPLAY" entity that is alive and growing with each passing day. Isn't it just a matter of time until each review will have a sponsor? “This catch review is brought to you by Tostitos, the official crunchy snack of the National Football League".

Wiser heads than me will have to sort out how soccer can best use the VAR technology but we must avoid it turning into controversy over every foul, every throw in, and every time a manager steps a foot out of his technical area with demands for review. Perhaps I'm a dreamer and my time has passed but I still want soccer to be about sport, not entertainment.

Indeed, I say soccer must not act to kill the monster but never allow the "Frankenreplay" creature to ever be born in the first place. By the way, this article was brought to you by "Snickers. The #1 candy bar enjoyed by sports writers worldwide".

Author: Kristopher Klassen