Soccer and Technology, The View FRom a Technology Detractor and Passionate Soccer Fan
By: Carlos Freire
Soccer and technology were two subjects that would be rarely named in the same sentence until last year. On June 2016 the International Football Association Board approved Video Assistant Referee’s (VAR) trial and it is mainly used to review goals, penalties and straight red cards. This is one of the first big and serious efforts to bring technology into soccer. Thereafter it started to be tried in the United Soccer League in the United States as well as in the Australian league. It is now being used in the MLS and even in the Bundesliga
I have been used to advanced technology when watching tennis, the NBA or NFL seasons, but not soccer. I am a passionate soccer fan. One of the things I love about soccer is its speed, its flow. The use of VAR would inevitably interrupt that flow. When we have to wait two or three minutes for the referee to review a movement, the flow of the game will be interrupted, we would start to have interrupted and longer games. I would hate for soccer to have the amount of technology breaks that a basketball game has.
I first got to experience the use of VAR during this year’s Confederation’s Cup. I found it confusing. On the one hand we saw a referee giving a yellow card instead of a red card in the Chile vs Germany game when Gonzalo Jara elbowed Timo Werner in the face. After reviewing the video where the intentional elbow was seen, a red card should have been in place. It was also confusing when a red card was given to the wrong player during the Germany vs Cameroon game. In this case Ernest Mabouka fouled Emre Can, the referee called for VAR intervention and after reviewing the video came back to show a red card to Sebastien Siani. After reviewing the video a second time, the referee sent off the right man. Finally, during Mexico vs Portugal game for the third play, the referee chose not to use VAR after Pepe pushed Hector Moreno inside the box.
There is one recent instance where VAR’s use could have really lead to a fair game (No, I am not thinking about Maradona’s hand of God goal). During the last round of World Cup Classifiers in the COCACAF, Panama was awarded a goal that never seemed to cross the line. This goal ended up giving a victory to Panama over Costa Rica and left the United States out of the World Cup. This may be one of the instances where VAR would have come handy and would have actually lead to a fair outcome.
Getting over that exception that I had to take into consideration, my conclusion of VAR’s use during the Confederation Cup earlier this year is that FIFA still has to improve much of the technology (maybe having a handy monitor for the referee, or something similar that could diminish the amount of time the game is stopped), but specially, a clearer procedure needs to be defined. With the current definition, the decision keeps being from the referee. So there is really no elimination of human error when we are leaving it up any way to the referee. In one of the few things in which I would agree with Sepp Blatter was in the fact that you have to allow the human error factor, you have to allow referees to make mistakes. But my opinion is, let’s allow the space for human error but don’t interrupt and extend the soccer games by adding technology wrongly applied to them.