[OP-ED]: Finally FIFA succeeds with instant video review
Geoff Hurst’ goal in the championship game of the 1966 World Cup or Diego Maradona’s hand score in the 1986 World Cup. Without going that far in time everybody remembers Sergio Ramos’ goal in an offside position in the last Champions League final contest or, less than a month ago the penalty kick awarded to Barcelona for a non-existing foul on Luis Suárez by a Paris Saint-Germain defender…
No other sport has been more related to controversy than soccer. But, ironically, no other sport has been more reluctant to use technology to amend the mistakes made by its officials. And it is strange, because in no other sport a score represents more to the game than in soccer. A goal decides a game and it is much more meaningful than a basketball shot, a baseball run or a football touchdown.
Finally, after using a spray to get the right distance for the defending walls on free kicks in the last World Cup, FIFA decided to enforce a pilot program for video review in last year’s Club’s World Championship. The result was a disaster. Action was stopped for minutes. Instant review was sometimes applied 120 seconds after the controversial play happened. It was a total failure that was received with joy by those who have never believed soccer should have instant replay.
But the International Federation did not give up and worked in improving the logistics of the system, performing another test during the friendship match France and Spain played in Paris this week. FIFA worked very hard to correct its mistakes, highlighting a new official, the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), in charge of deciding the instant review of controversial plays. For the first time in soccer history, another official than the referee would take his own decisions having the final word on the specific dubious actions.
Spain played a great game and won by a 2-0 score, but the media attention shifted to the task performed by the VAR, who was the true game MVP. Three decisions made by this new official were key for the outcome of the contest and no complaints were made, because justice ruled.
At the start of the second half, Antoine Griezmann headed a ball into the Spanish net. The referee awarded the goal, but the VAR called instant review and in a few seconds overturned the score for offside. With the game still scoreless, French defenseman Laurent Koscienly pushed Spanish forward Gerard Deulofeu inside the box. The referee made the right call, but the VAR upheld it and David Silva converted the penalty kick to put the visiting squad ahead, 1-0. Minutes later, a Deulofeu goal was not awarded, because the referee called him offside. The young winger did not even celebrate it. But the VAR overruled the referee again after acknowledging through instant video review that Deulofeu was not offside. Spain 2, France 0.
FIFA is exultant. When reviewing controversial plays, the system is as important as the way to do it. Actions were resolved in few seconds and the game never lost its rhythm. Detractors of instant review in soccer received a huge blow. Their arguments against the system have now lost all their strength.
FIFA announced more tests in several competitions before the system is used in the 2018 Russia World Cup. We need to be prepared, because the VAR will become regular in soccer. It was about time! Very soon, the ungrateful task of the officials will not be the top excuse for coaches and executives who look for explanations to explain their reasons for failure.