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The World Cup's VAR System Can Fix Football With Just One Update

It's all about control.

SEAMUS BYRNE, /BEYOND
9 JUL 2018
 

FIFA's introduction of video assistant referees (VAR) to the 2018 World Cup has, well, it's had its moments.

Some want it to go die in a fire. Others think it's been good, and just needs a few tweaks to the rules, and more confidence from the referees, to make it great.

 

But there's one simple tweak (no, really) that would solve its biggest problems - and bring an end to players spending half their lifetime arguing with referees.

Give the players some control.

Give the players a referral system.

Sports like tennis, cricket and the NFL include video review systems with just such a rule system. They didn't always start with a perfect track record but, as their rules were improved, what made them feel fair and equitable was player referrals.

If you're out of the loop, these referral systems give a team a set number of times when they can challenge a decision and have the video review team overturn a decision if it was incorrect.

Example. Let's say you have two referrals. Correct? The decision gets changed and you keep two referrals - you were right, after all. Wrong? You lose that referral. Wrong twice, you have no more referrals to work with.

In football, arguing with the referee somehow became an essential part of on field performance for many players.

They like nothing more than standing as close as possible and shouting in faces, demanding that they couldn't possibly have fouled someone, or that someone was definitely offside, or whatever other grievance they may feel.

 

It's never been a strategy to getting a decision overturned, of course. It's just a nasty process to try and intimidate and influence future decisions. You need a thick skin to be a referee out there.

With the VAR under its introductory system, one of the biggest complaints has been over the times a referee has opted to not even check with the video assistants. If a team felt aggrieved, why not check the situation?

But no one really wants football stopping constantly to go back to the video review. You want the game to flow, and to have referees make decisions on the field with confidence as much as possible.

A team referral system puts control into the hands of a captain. If a player is certain he was truly fouled, or did not foul, a captain can signal for a review to ask VAR to check what really happened.

This makes football better in two incredible ways.

One, a team must put up or shut up. Are you sure that call was wrong? Is it so critical it could cost you the match? Challenge the call or get on with the game.

 

Two, a player can't spend forever diving and screaming they were unjustly impeded anymore. Really? If it actually happened, you can call for a review. Oh, you're faking it? You just wasted your team's precious referrals.

A team needs to know not to waste a referral on just any old frivolous challenge. No one wants to run out of referrals and then have a truly egregious error knock them out of a tournament.

And in the midst of this, a referee can still call for a VAR anytime they want to check something they weren't entirely sure about.

Everyone, players and officials, get some control and, therefore, greater agency over the flow of the game and the fairness of the decisions made.

No, none of this stops weird errors of judgment from occurring in the VAR booth once a referral takes place. Cricket has faced this situation a number of times since its referral system was introduced.

But these errors can eventually become an exception, and rules can be adjusted over time to ensure these video assistants are making decisions as fairly and accurately as possible.

It has not been perfect. But granting some control of the VAR system to the players on the field should be a no brainer.

It would be a leap toward the ideal scenario, where everyone feels confident that the decisions being made are happening with all eyes wide open.

/Beyond is ScienceAlert's new section covering the wider world of gadgets, games, and digital culture.

 

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