Video refereeing has arrived - and solved nothing

After decades of debate, argument and, at first resistance then acquiescence by FIFA, video refereeing finally arrived as a practical tool when it went on trial at this month’s FIFA Club World Cup in Japan.


FIFA staff check the Video Assistant Refrees (VAR) system Source: EPA

If the first incident referred to the VAR (Video Assistant Referee) is any guide it was a miserable failure.

It came in the semi-final between Kashima Antlers (Japan) and Atletico Nacional (Colombia). Thirty minutes in, Kashima’s Daigo Nishi claimed to have been tripped inside Atletico’s penalty area by Orlando Berrio. Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai ignored him and waved play-on.


As the game flowed, Kassai was alerted by the VAR that the man in the middle may have missed something. Kassai stopped play and jogged to the sidelines to examine the video himself. After gazing at the monitor for an agonising 13 seconds, Kassai turned and pointed to the spot: Penalty to Kashima which Shoma Doi duly converted.

On looking at the slo-mo replay it is at best inconclusive. At worst, even after looking at the video, the ref got it wrong. In either case the infallible and deified video proved nothing.

You may not agree with my assessment. But that’s not the point. If there are just two people in the world who disagree on whether or not Kassai got the decision right, that’s enough to make the decision contentious. If that is the case, why bother with the video in the first place? We are back to where we were before it.

On the video Berrio does appear to catch the trailing leg of Nishi. But what we cannot tell is whether it was intentional or, as some of Berrio’s teammates claimed, accidental.

The problem is that the only video we can see is in slow motion. That is the first component of this new rule that should be thrown out. If the referee saw the same video we have seen, then he made his judgement based on slow motion not real motion. The thing wrong with slow motion is that it suggests the offender had much more time to contemplate his action than he actually did. Thus it makes the offence seem far more pre-meditated than it actually could have been and is therefore false evidence.

I suspect those who drew up the new law, including FIFA president Gianni Infantino, know little about football, about footballer behaviour and even less about body movement or kinesiology.

Goal line technology, which is working well, is one thing. Video cameras that attempt to judge human behaviour and human emotion – like intent – is quite another.

Opponents of the introduction of video refereeing – me among them – were concerned that it would cause interruptions and long pauses into a game that is thrilling mainly because of its constant flow. This fear was realised on that day in Suita. The referee took over 40 seconds from the moment he stopped play and the time he was ready to have the penalty taken. This is far too long. And bear in mind, there was only one incident in the game which required VAR intervention. Imagine if there were four or five.

Kashima coach Masatada Ishii was naturally pleased, saying, ‘I think it is a good system in ensuring more fair judgements will be made.’

But even he added, ‘But if that kind of decision happens repeatedly during the game, the flow of the game will stop so we have to think about that.’

Atletico coach Reinaldo Rueda was less impressed: ‘We were talking about the video replay before the game. After we conceded that opening goal [Kashima won 3:0], it affected our concentration. I can say were the victim of the new technology.’

Video refereeing has finally arrived. But the controversies over contentious refereeing will surely remain.

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4 min read
Published 18 December 2016 at 10:02pm
By Les Murray