Why VAR has been a success this World Cup
The use of VAR or Video Assistant Referee has been a topic of discussion all throughout this World Cup. Unsurprisingly many are divided on its usage and the discussion which is all around is whether VAR is good for the game or not? From what we have seen during the Group Stages, I believe VAR has been an enormous success and through this article, I will look at the arguments for and against VAR and explain that, despite some teething issues, VAR is the best thing for football.
First things first and the biggest point of this article is that VAR does not make bad decisions, bad referees do. Referees in games are referred to VAR when there is a possibility a ruling should be overturned if there is a clear and obvious error. Once the referee has seen this they can choose to stick with their on the field decision or overturn this. If this process is followed correctly and the decision is still the wrong one, it is the referee which has failed, not VAR.
VAR is purely a video recording of the incident. It is not something that conspires against any team or supports the bigger teams, it merely gives the referees the chance to look at a decision again in order to give the best chance of arriving at the correct decision. Football is a game of opinions and whilst VAR will not stop some people contesting a decision, anything that gives the officials the best chance of getting a call correct has to be a good thing.
Now I shall go through some examples and explain why the decision was wrong/right and then go through the reasons why I think VAR should be here to stay, if not with a couple of amendments.
Neymar's dive vs Costa Rica
A decision which was certainly corrected thanks to VAR was the theatrics from Brazilian star Neymar. After turning a defender in the box, Neymar was struggling to go onto the ball and was touched on the shoulder by the Costa Rican defender, resulting in him falling on the floor dramatically in an attempt to win a penalty. Originally, he succeeds in this as the official pointed to the spot and gave Brazil a penalty. Without VAR, we would be referencing a horrendous mistake from the officials but thankfully, the referee was able to overturn his original choice.
Marcus Rojo vs Nigeria
Another correct decision when referred to VAR, from a long Nigerian cross into the box. Going for a header, Rojo inadvertently headed the ball onto his own arm. This led to Nigerian players swarming the ref asking for a VAR decision. The team upstairs referred the referee to the screen in order to check if he wanted to overturn his original verdict. However, after looking at the incident on the screen, the referee rightfully waved away appeals and stuck with his original decision.
Cedric "Handball" vs Iran
This was a horrible decision by the officials in which VAR did not result in the correct decision. Referee Enrique Caceres pointed to the spot to give Iran a penalty for handball, which to the eyes of many was never deserving of the decision. A header in the box was blocked unintentionally by the outstretched arm of fullback Cedric from extremely close quarters.
The attack then broke down with barely an appeal coming from the Iranian players. As he is fully entitled to do, the referee went to the monitor to reassess the incident and go over the replay. Bizarrely the Paraguayan official then re-entered to pitch and gave a penalty, to the disbelief of almost everyone watching.
Such a blatant error caused much uproar about the incident, with many VAR critics citing it as a pure example of a system which does not work. While the decision was not correct I lay the blame on the shoulders of the referee, rather than VAR. The system is there for the official to check the incident, to overturn the decision was the responsibility of Enrique Caceres and unfortunately, he got it badly wrong.
Kyle Walker vs Tunisia
This is a much more contentious decision. Walker was adjudged to have pulled down Tunisian attacker Ben Youssef after misjudging the height of the cross and having his arms out wide parallel with the ground. While Ben Youssef was unlikely to get the ball, he was obstructed by the arm of Walker and hit the ground, resulting in the referee calling a penalty. VAR did look at the incident but decided not to ask the referee to check on his decision as there was not a clear or obvious mistake.
While I can understand how some may find it hard to see how this incident could deserve a penalty, Walker's mistake in causing the attacker to fall inside the box gave the referee a decision to make. With this being such a close call, it is going to be impossible to convince everyone that the end result was the correct one. Yet, to overruling this would have given VAR even more negative press and as a result this was probably the right decision.
These examples I feel show a broad range of the good and bad for VAR in this World Cup and I would love to hear your thoughts on all of the incidents above and any other instances, in the comments down below.
Now, I think it’s time to get past the controversy and the critics and talk about why VAR has overall been a positive for the game.
The best thing about the system for me is offside decisions. As a fan, there is nothing worse than seeing a perfectly good goal disallowed for offside when replays show the attacker has timed his run perfectly. In this World Cup, linesmen have been encouraged that when a decision is close, allow the attack to progress and then let VAR judge the call, meaning that the issue of a wrongly disallowed goal is almost eradicated. Being a linesman at the highest level must be one of the most difficult jobs in sports officiating and any help to get these decisions right is a massive positive.
Another massive positive is the controversy it adds to the game. Many critics of technology in football state that the lack of controversy will make every game boring and a little soulless. Yet, with VAR the excitement of a decision is massive and we are much more likely to get the end result correct thanks to the replays, surely this is the best of both worlds. Watching a referee walk over to the monitor and look at the incident, the suspense mounts as to what way the call will go and it creates great excitement. I do agree that for fans inside the stadium, there needs to be more communication with the supporters, but for fans at home, it is incredibly gripping.
Overall then I think VAR has been a massive success this World Cup. It is not designed to be a flawless system, it merely gives the officials the best chance to get the right decision and so far, it is achieving a better percentage of correct decisions. As the power remains with the referees, there will be bad decisions made on account for poor officiating, but VAR makes these incidents few and far between. This is VAR's first real test on a big stage and like anything new, it is not perfect and has some issues but overall, I think it has been a success.
The main question that must be asked 'Has this World up been exciting and enjoyable to watch?' This is a resounding yes so far and I believe VAR has been a positive part of Russia 2018's triumph.