ZURICH (Reuters) - Video replays to help referees make key decisions are set to be used at this year’s World Cup in Russia after the system was approved by soccer’s rule-making body IFAB on Saturday, a move that could fundamentally change the nature of the sport.
IFAB unanimously agreed to approve the VAR (Video Assistant Referee) system in arguably the biggest change to the game since the abolition of the back-pass in 1992.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino said a final decision on using VAR during the World Cup would be taken at a Council meeting to be held by the global soccer body on March 16.
However, that is expected to be a rubber-stamping decision as Infantino has repeatedly promised that VAR will be used at the June 14-July 15 tournament and has made it one of his priorities since being elected in February 2016.
European soccer’s ruling body UEFA, on the other hand, has already said the system will not be deployed in next season’s elite Champions League club competition, saying it needs more time to be tested.
“As of today, the VAR system is part of football,” Infantino told reporters. “We came to the conclusion that VAR is good for football and referees, it brings more fairness to the game. For these reasons we have decided to approve it.”
Critics say VAR has led to confusion in competitions where it has been used, especially for spectators in stadiums who are often unaware that a decision is being reviewed.
There have been incidents in Italy where goals have been disallowed following a three-minute wait, after celebrations have died down, and penalties revoked with the ball on the spot and the attacking player waiting to take the kick.
According to IFAB protocols, VAR should only be used in four key cases: goals, penalties, direct red cards and mistaken identity.
A trained referee with access to a video monitor, and in constant communication with the main match official, checks all such decisions.
If a “clear and obvious” mistake is spotted the incident can be reviewed and changed. The referee, who has access to a pitchside monitor, can also initiate a review himself.
Infantino brushed aside concerns over the readiness of World Cup referees or concerns that the VAR system was taking the spontaneity and excitement out of the sport.
“I can guarantee that the referees that will be at the World Cup will be ready,” he said on Saturday.
“Regarding the flow of the game, the intervention takes around one minute. I believe that VAR at the World Cup will certainly help us to have a fairer World Cup.”
“Those who used to complain about the referee will complain about VAR,” he added. “When the referee reviews a decision, this creates maybe an additional moment of emotion, tension, everyone is waiting... then you either celebrate or you scream.”
“What is more important for us is that we can help the referee to take the right decision, we bring fairness to the game.”
IFAB technical director David Elleray added that the video assistant had a complex and technical role.
“This is far more complex than most people realize and we want to protect football,” he said.
“The referee is not sitting in at home with a cup of coffee in one hand and a mobile phone in the other, watching TV and giving the referee a call when something goes wrong. It is highly complicated.”
Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Ken Ferris