Veteran referee warns against the use of VAR at World Cup 2018
Whether the video assistant referee (VAR) will feature at the World Cup finals has yet to be decided, but there are fears the system could spell trouble for Russia 2018.
The fate of the VAR in Russia this June will be debated at a key meeting of the International Football Association Board (IFAB) in Zurich on Monday.
A final decision is expected to be made by Fifa in March.
The aim of the VAR system is to eradicate blatant refereeing errors - for example, Diego Maradona’s infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal at the 1986 World Cup finals.
The system is being tested in Germany’s Bundesliga and Italy’s Serie A this season.
Fans complain about long delays leading to confusing - and in some cases, plain wrong - decisions made by the VAR during league games.
The system has just started being used in some cup games in England and the Spanish league will follow suit for 2018/19.
VAR is like airbag
The system suffered a public relations disaster in Germany last November when Hellmut Krug, the VAR project manager for the German FA, was removed as supervisor.
His demotion came immediately after German daily Bild alleged he had influenced the VAR to intervene to the benefit of Schalke, his home town club.
The technology also regularly broke down in the opening weeks, which dented further confidence in the system with one eye on the World Cup.
“We are going to send referees to Russia who have never worked with the VAR before,” former Swiss referee Urs Meier, who officiated at the 1998 and 2002 World Cup finals, told German magazine Kicker.
“It is impossible to prepare with just a few trial exercises, because there in no way to account for the speed and real-time pressure of a World Cup match.
“The VAR is like an airbag: it can help in an emergency, but only in case of a real emergency.”
Mistakes have been made even though referees in Italy and Germany trained with the system for a year before using the VAR during league matches.
Just like in Germany, there have been complaints and controversial scenes in Serie A, but the idea of using the VAR at Russia 2018 has won support in Italy.
A national training unit is about to open in Coverciano, Florence, where FIFA will send referees to learn how to use the VAR system.
The VAR has also been tried in England, and has never lacked negative reactions. In the FA Cup match where Chelsea played Norwich City, Chelsea had two players in Pedro Rodriguez and Alvaro Morata sent off after two bookings in what the match official adjudged to have been dives. Nonetheless, pundits argued that VAR gave incorrect prediction in a case where Chelsea midfielder Willian was brought down in the edge of the box only for him to be booked for what should have been a penalty.
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