On 16th March 2018 in a FIFA council meeting in Bogota, it was decided that the Video Assistant Referee famously known as VAR will make its full debut in the 2018 FIFA World Cup taking place in Russia. VAR is an assistant referee who reviews decisions made by the match referee on the field using footage and headset for communication. It only deals with some of the main game changing decisions like a direct red card incident, checking a goal for an offside or a foul, penalty decisions, or mistaken identity.
The beginning 3-4 months were not so good for VAR as it took a lot of criticism from many players, managers, and pundits. They said that VAR was “sucking the life out of the game,” with the long pauses caused for checking. As this new rule started to become normal, it was realized that it helped the referees on the pitch a lot by taking back the incident into inspection as the fast pace of some of the games make it difficult for the referees to sometimes catch up to it and give to the point decisions. VAR played an important part when penalties which were almost impossible to give by the naked eye were checked and helped the team who otherwise would have probably dropped some points because of it. It also helped when the referee checked a clear red card incident like an intentional stamp on a player’s foot hitting another one deliberately.
Therefore, VAR became a boon for the referees who could make the right decisions and reprimanded the players who took the rules for granted.
However, as the games went on, it was observed that the game’s tempo was affected, but some decisions made by the assistant referee sitting in the stands were controversial too and were later seen as a wrong one. Here are some of the high profile incidents which were highly controversial in terms of the VAR judgment:
Brazil vs. Argentina, Copa America Semifinal 2019 – The highly competitive semi-final between these two footballing greats is always a treat to watch and is played with full of energy and aggression. The players were frustrated by the VAR decisions, especially Argentina Captain Lionel Messi, when in the final 20 minutes of the game, Sergio Aguero was about to run in onto a Messi pass before tumbling over Dani Alves in the box. The ball was then cleared, with Gabriel Jesus bursting forward to play the ball to Roberto Firmino, who scored the second goal. In Messi’s opinion, VAR should have awarded a penalty following Alves’ foul, which would have changed the game’s course. The second incident refers to Arthur seemingly heavily shoving Nicolas Otamendi deliberately with his shoulder. The Argentina national team was about to meet a left-wing corner, though no foul was given. After the game, Messi furiously criticized The South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL). He said, “There is no doubt, the whole thing is set up for Brazil. I hope the VAR and referees don’t play any part in the final and that Peru can compete, but it looks tough to me.”
Man City vs. Tottenham, 2018-19 UCL Quarter-finals – Man City’s dramatic quarter-final clash saw two decisions that were influenced by the VAR. They resulted in City being eliminated on away goals. The first one was Llorente’s goal, which looked as if the ball was close to hitting his hand or elbow area before falling into the net – prompting handball calls. The referee reviewed the incident on the pitch-side monitors but ruled out a handball, allowing the goal and incensing the Etihad supporters. The agitation further grew when a last-minute Raheem Sterling goal, which would have sent City through to the semi’s, was again ruled out by VAR for an offside call and broke all City hearts.
So, the question arises that if the referees are not able to check the incident correctly, even after getting a slow-motion view of it, then is VAR even required in football? Many such incidents started placing doubts in the mind of several spectators and officials in the world. This brought the officials to make a slight tweak in this system. It is now decided that the referees on the pitch will have to review the incident themselves through the pitch-side screen and be absolutely sure that the decision being taken is the right one.
Hence, the question still remains whether VAR will prove to be a boon or a bane for world football. The answer will probably come out to be a positive one, as there aren’t many supporters who would like to see their team lose to a winning goal scored like the one in the 1986 world cup final by the legendary Diego Maradona. They would rather have a helping hand instead of having a “Hand of God” moment against them.
By Shashwat Nishant