By Tony Attwood
In recent months, Fifa has considerably accelerated the testing of the video-assistance to referees (known as VAR) procedures, which, as the chairman of Fifa (who is an awfully nice and upright fellow) has annouced, will be used during the World Cup 2018.
Now Pierluigi Collina, Chairman of the Fifa Referees Committee, and Massimo Busacca, Head of the Arbitration Department, have also announced that they are stepping up the programme of educating referees in the approach, so that they too are ready.
Although commentators in England such as Robbie Savage, have said that the approach cannot possibly work, and although the UK media is largely ignoring the development, Fifa is still pushing the process through ready for Russia. As Collina has recently stated “the objective is to maintain the rhythm and the fluidity of the game,” adding that there will be “Minimum interference for maximum results.”
Presumably the notion of the UK media not covering all the activity that is going on in relation to having video refs in the world cups, is part of a media agreement with PGMO which prohibits any media questioning of cumulative referee decisions. This is done, I imagine, in the hope that the arrival of the video ref in the summer of 2018 will be seen as an unexpected shock allowing another couple of years of dithering by the Premier League in cahoots with PGMO, before ultimately they agree to a much reduced mini-version of video refereeing into the PL.
But meanwhile, the work goes on and the key issue that Collina and Busacca are working on is that of knowing when to interrupt the game and when to let it continue, while losing as little time as possible with each decision made.
In order to help this process the technology now being used is described as being “Like your ipad.” Collina explained: “You move the screen, you zoom with your fingers.” And that seems to be it.
Which of course makes it look and sound very simple, but does apparently take some getting used to, to ensure that the referees watching the video monitors know exactly who to look at, when and where, and when exactly to freeze the picture to spot the offside, the pull on the shirt, the push in the back, the elbow in the face. All the stuff we see going unpunished at each game.
For Clément Turpin, the Fifa listed French referee, the question of communication with technicians is also central. “They are the experts, they know the angles, the cameras. I prefer to touch it as little as possible so as not to waste time,” he stated in an interview on the issue of using the video ref approach.
In the training sessions referees follow each other into a tent set up containing all the video equipment, trying to familiarise themselves with the technology, while out on the pitch Massimo Busacca and players from Fiorentina try to catch them out with a variety of legal and illegal moves – the sort that we regularly see at the Emirates and which are never punished.
Watch Arsenal Live Streams With StreamFootball.tv
They place the attacking player in front of the keeper so the keeper can’t see where the ball is, they try sliding tackles, there are deliberate and accidental handballs… the referee on the pitch makes the decisions in quick succession and those in the tent have to verify those decisions within a second or two.
Reports of the trial have the referees in the tent calling out, “Correct, correct. Yes, correct decision, there is nothing,” and then suddenly, “Penalty, yellow for the keeper.” Then, “wait, we’re checking again.”
The point is that in the end the VAR instructions must be brief and assured. At the moment, according to reports, as yet they are not always quite like that, so more training sessions are ordered.
Busacca is apparently pushing his trainees to make decisions in the tent faster and faster. “How long is it to give a penalty?” he asks. “One hour? It’s not going to be the guys, I want you to be focused.”
Sometimes it sounds like banter, sometimes it is suddenly a lot more serious. “Penalty or not? It’s you who decides, not me. Red? There is never red my friend, never.”
As Busacca says to the media later, everyone who has tried it, is in favour. “Our opinion is still unanimous and all the referees who have used it and talk about it have only praise for the video assistance.”
After the trial session Dutchman Bjorn Kuipers, said, “For us it is a great friend. We are no longer alone on the pitch, and it gives a lot more certainty to the decisions of the ref.”
In one training game one of the young Fiorentina players is surprised at the lack of a penalty decision, Busacca replies, “Three referees say no, my friend. One here and two in the tent.”
As a result the referee is always right, especially when there are three of them and they have the benefit of replays.
Just supposing PGMO are looking at this, and recognising that (as we have found) quite often over half the major decisions in PL games are wrong, and that these errors are not evenly distributed between teams, so it doesn’t “even out in the end”. For that is certainly what our figures show, over and over (and if you don’t believe it take a look at 160 games.)
What then? Ultimately they won’t be able to stop video refereeing in the Premier League any longer, but they can’t also allow their referees to be exposed to the ridicule of getting under half their major decisions right. So what do they do?
Look in the tent and you might find Oliver, Madley, Pawson, Taylor, Dean… and with them giving the video referee decisions, we are going to be no better off than we were before video refereeing was introduced.
A worrying thought.
- The curious case of the wrath of penalty Gods on Arsenal!
- Arsenal Transfer Index Edition 6. 39 players joining the club; 13 players leaving.
- How Fifa corruption is continuing, and how we can help bring it down.