The Arrival of Video Assistant Referees: A win-win situation

Kuipers Video Ref

Dutch Referee Bjorn Kuipers consulting the VAR before booking French right back Djibril Sidibe.

Many reject it. They say that football will lose its “magic”. That suffering or enjoying with the mistakes and blunders of the referees is also part of the passion and… blah.

On Thursday, September 1st, several friendly games took place in Europe, as rehearsals for the Russian qualies that start on Sunday. In a day that was defined as “historic”, for the first time ever an official international game had the experimental use of Video Assistant Referees (VAR). In this case, Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers -one of the best European judges- was the one who got benefited with the test in the match he had to conduct between Italy and France, played in Bari.

Kuipers used the video replay two times to make a decision: Three minutes after the game started, French right back Djibril Sidibe went with a hard foul on Danielle De Rossi, who spent a few moments in pain lying on the grass. The Dutch admitted that at first he was going to send off Sidibe, but after consulting with the VAR, he only booked him.

Then, on 31 minutes of the first half, after a corner kick, the Italians protested an alleged handball by Layvin Kurzawa in the box after a header from De Rossi, but Kuipers, once again supported by the video assistant referee, dismissed calling the penalty.

Sadly, after spending hours looking for videos, I realized that those two moments during the game went completely unnoticed in the broadcast, so there is no visual register to actually see how the procedure goes, because FIFA hasn’t enabled on-field video consultations for this type of games. The referee only used his intercom system to talk with the two VARs, who were in a truck outside the stadium. Actually, Kuipers said after the game that he only took ten seconds to complete the whole task and that the system brought him other benefits: “I noticed that the players accepted the decisions more calmly (…) They accept it and it’s finished”*. Therefore, I’d say this is pretty much a win/win situation.

I have to say that I completely support the integration of video referee technology to football. Just as in the NBA or the NFL. And I think it’s inevitable. In the case of football, the absence of refereeing technology has occurred because up to certain point this technology wasn’t easy to apply. But most of all, the biggest reason has been a resistance that cannot be sustained anymore. If the game itself has changed, if the rules have changed and are constantly changing, if the broadcasting platforms have also taken advantage of technology, it is not acceptable that the main product refuses to do it. And not only because it’s a fact that football is running behind the latest available technological advances, but also because referees show every time more frequently their human nature through continuous mistakes that steal qualifications, titles, prizes, history and joys from teams and fans, causing an everlasting harm.

I prefer a thousand times to accept a call that harms my team because it’s just, rather than checking my phone one minute after and see that it was a refereeing blunder that will make me feel anger, hatred and bitterness during a whole week, month, year or my whole life every time I remember it. And we all know it works like that. Every time a fair decision can be made thanks to the VAR, even if it’s against our teams, it will be a bummer, who can deny it, but we’ll feel at ease knowing that the call was the right thing to do. Nothing to protest about and little suffering. At the most, one can get mad at the player who committed the foul.

At the same time, when a team gets benefited by some refereeing mistake, it’s also very easy to stay silent and laugh at the rival fans who then spend the whole week, month or year in hell, complaining and hating, because the referee harmed them with an unjust call that ended up in a defeat, elimination, title loss, relegation, etc.

With the VAR, all that anger and those traumas should end. Or at least, get minimized. Because anyway, the feature will have a limited amount of consultations, like in tennis, and because there’s also a huge pressure not to interrupt the flow of the game for too long. If the ref team in charge of revising the video replay is not sure of the decision, the referee himself will have to see it and make the final decision.

Let’s consider that it’s already difficult for journalists, pundits and exreferees to decide if a call was correct or not, after five minutes of replays from all the possible angles. Then, let’s think about how it is to be on the pitch, doing it in real time. Please, I’m not defending here those referees who make mistakes at every game all the time, as it is so often seen in Chilean or Southamerican football in general. No video system will be able to turn a bad referee into a good one.

And thinking about those who harm football, I also believe that the VAR might very well lower the corruption in which so many judges are involved due to the illegal betting system, because the video assistance is intended to regulate decisions on goals, red cards, penalties and to identify players. Exactly what can change the fate of a game. 

To me, this is all about justice and peace. I don’t want to suffer anymore because I felt that a referee took away from me an illusion or the balance of a game where my team was even against or better than a rival. Either in favor or against, if the call proves to be right thanks to the VAR, we all will be at ease, knowing that it was the right thing with no one to blame.

For now, they are only experiments, but they are already being carried out in important leagues around the world such as the MLS, Bundesliga, the league and cup in Portugal, the A-League in Australia and Serie A. In example, in the U.S. United Soccer League, when in doubt, the referee consults first with one of the assistant referees on the pitch. But if the doubt remain, he can ask for the video replay by drawing an air-screen with his fingers. In that way, he can also verify what happened.

The implementation is different according to every league. This allows to gather information to know what system works better in favor of the game without taking from it the momentum nor the flow. It also depends on the referee, his feeling and confidence using the system. Weeks ago I saw a USL referee who took like five minutes to make a final call, even using the video replay and it was really embarrassing.

FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, said that with the use of the video assistance in the Italy-France game “a page of football history was written” and that he hopes the system will be used at the world cup of Russia 2018.*

In the end, the game and the fans win. It’s also a gain for coaches and players who will save anger and harming, unnecessary overreactions. If we so want transparency from officials in the football administration, we also must accept to bring that transparency to the pitch.
*Source of the Italy-France news: Associated Press.