By Jonathan Copping, Stone King LLP, London, UK
At a recent FIFA Council meeting in Bogota, FIFA ratified the use of Video Assistant Referee (“VAR”) at the World Cup in Russia this summer.
Speculation had been rife that VAR would be used, following the statement by FIFA Chief Commercial Officer, Philippe Le Floc’h, in February 2018 that “Definitely VAR will happen”.
Gianni Infantino, the FIFA President, who has been a vocal supporter of the introduction of VAR, announced that:
“We are going to have our first World Cup with VAR. It has been approved and we are extremely happy with that decision
The use of VARs in football is limited to four specific situations. These are:
(1) whether the ball has crossed the line for a goal;
(2) whether a penalty should be awarded;
(3) whether a direct red card should be shown; and
(4) in cases of mistaken identity.
Using VAR at the World Cup is a risk for FIFA.
So far, even some of the top officials in leagues currently trialling VAR, have caused controversies. Most recently, in the German Bundesliga match between Mainz and Freiburg, the referee invoked the use of VAR at half-time and called the players back out onto to the pitch to take a penalty. The penalty was scored and the players went back into the dressing room to finish the half-time break.
Some of the referees, officiating games at the World Cup, will not have previously had the experience of using VAR. Those referees will then be using VAR for the first time at the biggest football tournament in the World. All 36 referees, plus their teams of assistants, will be trained by FIFA prior to the tournament.
So far, the decisions made using VAR have not been displayed to the fans in the stadiums; only the referee can see the incident on a monitor at the side of the pitch. FIFA has announced that VAR decisions will be displayed on the big screens inside the stadiums. The fans will only be able to see footage of the incident after the referee has made the decision, to avoid allowing the crowd to influence the referee.
With the World Cup less than two months away, the announcement of the use of VAR will add some further intrigue and possible controversy to this summer’s matches.