Unequivocally, the most prominent innovation of the just concluded 2018 FIFA World Cup hosted by Russia is the introduction of Video Assistant Referee (VAR).
According to Wikipedia, VAR is a football assistant referee who reviews decisions made by the head referee with the use of video footage and a headset for communication.
In 2018, VAR was written into the laws of the game by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) following trials in a number of major competitions.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup marked the system’s World Cup debut, with several notable uses across the stages.
The first VAR decision at the World Cup came on 16 June, in a group stage match between France and Australia, where referee Andres Cunha awarded a penalty to France after consulting with the VAR.
A total of 335 incidents were checked by the VAR during the group stage, averaging seven per match, and 14 calls made by referees were changed or overruled after being reviewed by the VAR.
According to FIFA, the VAR system had a success rate of 99.3 per cent, up from the 95 per cent of correct calls by referees without VAR.
Nonetheless, just as the VAR has been massively applauded, it has also been trailed by a flurry of criticisms as some critics believe it created more problems than it was meant to solve.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino, in his appraisal, said that goals scored from offside positions would be a thing of the past at least in competitions where VARs are used.
“This is progress, this is better than the past; VAR is not changing football, it is cleaning football, making it more honest and transparent and helping referees to make the right decisions.
“The goal scored from an offside position is finished in football, at least in football with VAR.
“You will never see any more a goal scored in an offside position, it’s finished because either you are or are not offside, these are clear decisions,” Reuters quoted Infantino as saying.
A football aficionado, Paul Okeke, said that the VAR could not be perfect but succeeded in eliminating most errors and wrong decisions.
He said, however, that in as much as referees still had the final say, the VAR could not foreclose bias officiating.
“All in all, it is worthwhile introduction and should be adopted in all football matches,’’ he said.
In his own assessment, a sports analyst, Emma Okeagu, rated the VAR 80 per cent in accuracy.
Okeagu said that there were a lot of wrong decisions that referees would have made if not for the VAR.
“It is not perfect but great. It gives teams opportunity to protest and be heard by the referee who will go for VAR review.
“It should be retained and adopted in every football tournament worldwide,’’ he said.
On his part, Linus Mba, Adviser to FIFA on Referee Matters, said that the world football governing body deserved commendation for the introduction of VAR.
Mba said that the VAR played key role in the high standard of match officiating at the just concluded World Cup in Russia.
He said that the era of conflicts and allegations of bias were over with the creation of the VAR.
“FIFA has sent a signal of hope and restoration of confidence to football enthusiasts with Video Assistant Referees.
“ The time of fighting or assaulting referees is over because every conflict will be nipped in the bud,” Mba said.
The veteran referee said that in the past, some referees used to be assaulted by unruly fans, but today it would be difficult to do it again.
Mba noted that the role of the VAR had averted such ugly occurrences after matches.
He said that the review of referees’ decisions had put to an end conflicts that could arise from alleged biased decisions.
Sharing similar sentiments, Coach of FRSC FC of Abuja, Akinade Onigbinde, said introduction of VAR was an instant panacea for poor officiating of football matches.
Onigbinde said that such innovation by FIFA had reduced the number of complaints after matches.
He commended the world football governing body for the idea, saying it had sanitised officiating of matches.
“Gone are those days when only the centre referee had the final decision even when it is wrong.
“Today, there is room for amendment and review of decisions which is highly commendable,” Onigbinde said.
He explained that VAR’s role in the just concluded World Cup contributed to fair officiating of matches.
According to him, the system provides minimum interference in match officiating, instead of having a major and highly controversial impact.
On the reverse, Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic queried the VAR penalty call which helped France to a 4-2 win in the World Cup final, according to www.stuff.co.nz.
“I don’t talk about refereeing decisions, but I will say this one thing: In a World Cup final, you do not give such a penalty,” Dalic said after the match in Moscow
Argentina referee Nestor Pitana consulted video replays before ruling Croatia’s Ivan Perisic handled the ball and awarded France a penalty in the 38th minute.
Antoine Griezmann converted to give France a 2-1 lead.
Pitana, a former actor, needed several replays before reaching his decision, prompting some observers to claim he seemed uncertain.
The incident arose after Perisic, back defending, contested a Griezmann corner with France’s Blaze Matuidi.
The ball made contact with the hand of the Croat midfielder, who looked off balance, www.stuff.co.nz reports.
Some former internationals that served as media pundits blasted Pitana’s VAR decision and also questioned his award of a free-kick which led to France’s opening score, an own goal by Croatia striker Mario Mandzukic.
Ex-England striker Alan Shearer said on BBC One, that he considered both decisions were wrong.
“There is no way a ridiculous decision like that should be deciding this final. It doesn’t deserve it after the tournament we have had.
“Croatia have been brilliant and they are losing this game because of a free-kick that wasn’t a free-kick and a penalty that wasn’t a penalty,” Shearer said as France went 2-1 up.
Shearer’s BBC One colleague, former England defender Rio Ferdinand said: “You can’t 100 per cent say it’s a penalty and he meant that. He’s not deliberately trying to handle that ball.
“It’s too close to him to react. The fact the referee took so long to make a decision, he can’t be certain.”
Jurgen Klinsmann, a World Cup winner with Germany in 1990 and a former German national team manager also felt Croatia should have been given the benefit of the doubt.
“When you are not sure, you don’t give it. It was the wrong decision,” he said on BBC One.
Perceptive analysts are of the view that VAR, to a reasonable extent, has acquitted itself creditably and needs to be sustained.
They, however, say that referees should be given further trainings on how to properly analyse the VAR in order to avoid impulsive, hazardous and regrettable decisions.