FIFA Bringing Video Evidence to Football – A Blessing or Curse?

June 8 must have been marked as the anti-Byron Moreno day in Italy. On that exact date back in 2002, South Korea knocked out Italy from the World Cup.

But this followed a number of poor refereeing deci- sions by one official from Ecuador called Byron Moreno. First, he denied Italy a would-be winner by canceling Damiano Tommasi’s goal. But what is more disturbing?

And then he went ahead to send off Francesco Totti. The video reviews showed how wrong Moreno was. Italy were enraged and left the competition seething. Yet, they still had to return home wondering what could have been.

However, at the behest of such incidents, Fifa has introduced the ‘Video Assistant Referees’, to help end the problems that have emanated from controversial (wrong) referee decisions during football matches.

Like we have seen during the ongoing Confederations Cup in Russia, and most recently during the under-20 World Cup in South Korea, the VAR have been in vogue. They have helped correct mistakes made by their colleagues at the centre that would, on another day, swing a match result the wrong way like South Korea benefited from Moreno 15 years ago.

Interestingly, this move has already been met with criticism from sections of the football fraternity. Some people are already suggesting that football should remain where it is, with all its controversy, like the Moreno one. Apparently, the VAR slows the game, and stifles the excitement, each time a review of the centre referee’s decision is made.

Yet, I cannot help wondering what football fans in this world really want. At one point, they are condemning a referee who has only a split second to decide a goal or rule it out, and on the other, the VAR is delaying them. Of course, it is without question that whenever the VAR are called into action, a few seconds are eaten up.

But what is more disturbing?

Is it the minute taken to get the decision right or the millions of money that football teams lose when they are wrongly adjudged? It is clear why Fifa decided to come up with the VAR intervention. There was a lot of acrimony from teams and their fans alike that were hard-done.

Many must remember the Thierry Henry handball from which he set up France’s goal that denied Ireland a chance at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. No amount of financial compensation from Fifa could have eased the pain the Irish felt after that game.

It was supposed to be the first time Ireland were returning to the World Cup since 2002. But all the Irish were left to do was lick their wounds. They hated the French, although for no fault of their own. The referee was not French, but a human being who probably did not see Henry handle the ball.

Now, denying the game its space for human error is another argument that has been raised by the critics of the VAR. Human error is what makes the thrill. Yes and no. For the one in whose favour a wrong decision goes, it is all fine. But what about the one on the receiving end? A bad refereeing call causes depression to others.

And that cannot be a good thing if you truly believe in fair-play. How many would really want a player to score a winning goal after they have simulated and earned a dubious penalty? I doubt many would want this.

In hindsight, I bet if the referee that officiated that France/Ireland game had seen Henry handle the ball before setting up William Gallas for the goal, he would have quickly awarded Ireland a free-kick.

In fact, some people have also argued in the past that big teams will always get favours over the smaller teams. And that Ireland got the wrong end of the stick because France were former World and European champions.

As for the Italy/South Korea tie, the reasoning was that Fifa had an unwritten rule to safeguard the sanctity of the 2002 World Cup by ensuring that the host remained in the tournament for as long as possible.

Since Japan, who were the co-hosts then, had been knocked out early, apparently, the World Cup stadia would be empty because of diminished local interest.

The aforementioned are of course unverified claims. But they have been with us for as long as the game has been played, as the allegations that the likes of Benito Mussolini, the former Italian dictator, influenced the 1934 and 1938 World Cup triumphs by Italy.

We do not need unfounded conspiracies in the game, especially when the VAR can eliminate all that. The VAR is only intended to ensure that football matches are won fair and square.

Just look at how much goal-line technology has done. So give VAR a chance, other than being a confused lot that wants to have its cake and eat too.

By John Vianney Nsimbe

Source: The Observer

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