For a number of years now officials have been aided in many sports by video technology. From tennis and rugby to cricket and baseball there has been a way for those in charge of proceedings to ensure that their decisions are correct.
However, football has always remained the metaphorical elephant in the room, refusing to learn from the successes that similar technology has produced in the accuracy of decisions around the world in other sports.
That was until 2016, a landmark moment when FIFA finally approved the use of VAR (Video Assistant Referee) at the Club World Cup before further trials at the Confederations Cup in 2017 and domestic competitions in Italy and Germany.
VAR has since been tested across the world in competitions including the Portuguese Primeira Liga, the MLS and even selected FA Cup fixtures in England.
As a result in late January 2018, the wider use of the technology took a huge leap forward when the International Football Association Board recommended that it be approved for use after reviewing the data from these experiments. The findings were collated by a team of academics at KU Leuven University in Belgium and were unanimously hailed as both “positive” and “encouraging”.
Having been used in 804 competitive matches across over 20 competitions the VAR system improved the accuracy of decisions from 93% to an impressive 98.9% during its 2-year trial worldwide.
VAR is permitted for use in four situations during a match, which are classed as "match-changing". These are goals, penalties, straight red cards and cases of mistaken identity by the referee.
A final decision on whether to introduce the technology on a permanent basis will be made at the International Football Association Board’s annual meeting in Zurich on 3 March.
However one of the clearest indications that it will be approved came from a recent interview between FIFA’s commercial officer Phillippe Le Floc’h and the Press Association where he revealed, “Definitely VAR will happen, it’s great to have technology in football because this is also a fair thing.”
He also spoke about how FIFA has already opened discussions with potential commercial partners about sponsoring the technology for the World Cup in Russia.
Key IFAB findings:
- In the 804 matches, there were 3,947 checks for possible reviewable incidents.
- 56.9% of checks were for penalty incidents and goals.
- There was an average of fewer than five checks per match.
- The median check time of the VAR is 20 seconds.
- The median duration of a review is 60 seconds.
- 68.8% of matches had no review.
- One decision in three matches is a "clear and obvious error".
- In 8% of matches, the VAR had a decisive impact on the outcome of the game.
- 24% of all matches were positively affected by the involvement of VAR (changing an initial incorrect decision by the referee).
- The average time 'lost' due to the VAR represents less than 1% of overall playing time.