The following is a book excerpt from The Women's World Cup 2019 Book:
VAR (Video Assistant Referee)
Any question as to whether VAR (Video Assistant Referee) should be used in the Women’s World Cup is frankly ridiculous. The women’s game should have it just as the men’s game does. The Women’s World Cup is making history, and VAR deserves a place at the table, rightfully so. It’s a new technology for soccer. Speaking of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, CNN reported, “…this is the first time in history that football has featured VAR at a World Cup.”[i]
Very quickly it became a sensation as millions of fans were discussing the pros and cons of advanced refereeing technology. Interestingly, at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, VAR operated like this: From a separate location, a VAR team of four officials viewed the games live with the help of cameras set up around the field. The head referee had a headset which allowed communication with the VAR team. Pretty simple. Information was relayed back and forth. And for important calls, including things like possible goals, ejections, penalty kicks, and offside situations, the technology was encouraged. Furthermore, a head referee has the option of going to a private viewing booth. This is the beauty of VAR.
Goal-line drama is all the rage with VAR. There was the famous situation in the 2010 World Cup down in South Africa that involved Germany and England. It was an elimination game. A huge game. And in the biggest moment of the game, Frank Lampard made what should have been a goal, which would’ve changed the outcome of the game, and possibly England’s whole tournament, and possibly the history of the World Cup, but without VAR, the referees couldn’t see in real time what millions of viewers from around the world saw on instant replay: a clear goal. The ball did go over the line. But the physics involved were exacting for even the most experienced referee. Thanks to the ball hitting off the crossbar, then crossing the goal line, then hitting the ground at an angle, the ball then bounced back into the field of play, so it was easy to see how a referee, along with his assistants, could miss such a call in real time. Still, VAR would’ve been nice to have.
Ejections by way of two yellow cards or a straight red card are huge reasons to have the assistance of the brilliant VAR. Here’s one really good example. Let’s say a particular player, Jessica, is playing with a yellow card. Then somewhere during a chaotic moment in the game, someone on the opposite team is fouled, and the referee mistakenly thinks that Jessica committed the foul, when, in fact, she didn’t. However, the foul is egregious enough for the referee to produce a yellow card, and it turns out to be Jessica’s second, which, by the rules of the game, dismisses her, and she has to miss the next match. However, with VAR, the referee can be told by the VAR team that Jessica was innocent after all. And the yellow card will eventually be given to the correct player.
Penalty kicks represent one of the biggest reasons VAR should be used. Was it a foul? Was it not a foul? Ostensibly, VAR can help in this regard. Sometimes a player who is really good at diving might use theatrical liberty to sell a call in the box. At a moment like this, a referee could very well miss the theatrics involved because everything was moving so fast, and in real time it’s sometimes hard to distinguish between a real foul and an Oscar-bound player. When everyone at home can see the flop, the referee is in a tough position. Yet, with VAR, the proper call can eventually be made.
If there’s a possible offside call, and the referees weren’t in position to get it right, then the VAR team can step in and help. Perfect. This assists referees immensely. What needs to be remembered with offside calls is that they represent one of the most difficult calls for referees to make. A player is considered offside if they are behind the last defender at the moment the ball is struck. This is the tricky part. Referees on the field are expected to determine an exact science almost, if we want to call offside such a thing. This is asking a lot of referees. Offside calls can be a really tough thing to get right. Coaches, players, and fans expect referees to get this exactly right every time, and that’s an impossible request. Let’s recap: The referees have to know exactly when the ball was struck and simultaneously know exactly where the last attacker was at the time of the ball being struck. This is very hard to determine on a regular basis with 100 percent certainty. Add to this, big moments in big games. VAR provides a fantastic option to get important offside calls right.
Some may wonder if VAR is not necessary until the elimination rounds. This is an interesting idea. After all, some of the teams in group play have little chance of success. This is a given. However, the following point is important (and to only say this is important is an understatement): Not having VAR in group play might affect teams that may advance far into the tournament. It could successfully be argued that teams like this should have the opportunity to win a group, or place higher in a group, for the sake of placement in the next round.
This makes the discussion of VAR in group play all the more intriguing. Should it be there? Should it wait until the elimination rounds? If we’re going to rely on the referees only during group play, then some teams might have room to complain if a call doesn’t go the right way. After all, if the fate of a team’s tournament is up in the air during a questionable goal-line call in the group stage, then VAR should definitely be present during group games. Waiting to use VAR during the elimination rounds only could deprive a team in the group stage of a chance to move into the elimination rounds. This is why it would make sense to implement VAR from the beginning of the tournament all the way to the end. And again, these points just add to the interesting discussion at large, one which certainly has occupied circles within FIFA.
What’s the value of VAR in the first place? Often times, if not all the time, when it comes down to a goal-line call, referees have a hard time knowing if the ball completely went over the line or not. This is the key. Referees cannot be expected to have perfect vision or be in just the right location to make such a critical call every time. Referees are human, which is why the Video Assistant Referee has become so valuable. It’s a great tool to use; it only takes a few minutes to double-check a call; and by using it, the integrity of the game remains strong. Another strong argument in favor of using VAR is that it takes a lot of pressure off the referees; it’s stressful enough officiating a game, and to have the safety net of VAR is good for the overall sanity of referees. They already have fans screaming at them, along with coaches and players. So to have VAR ready, which acts as the ultimate final say on tough decisions, is a good thing for the referees. It allows them room to relax and calmly concentrate on the game in its entirety.
By and large, VAR should be in use. Whether it should be in the group stages or first make an appearance in the eliminations rounds is another question altogether.
[i] (CNN), “What is VAR? The Video Assistant Referee explained,” CNN.com, updated June 19, 2018, accessed January 31, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2018/06/19/sport/var-video-assistant-referee-world-cup-russia-2018-int-spt/index.html