The War Of The World Cup: Is VAR Working?

Is the mechanical intervention of VAR necessary, or is it better to leave refereeing decisions to humans?

There’s no debating the near robotic precision with which Cristiano Ronaldo has performed at this year’s World cup. With a stunning hat-trick in the opening fixture and a sharp header to seal victory in the second, he’s truly delivering in dazzling fashion. However, the performance of the actual robots at the tournament has sparked much debate.

Video Assisted Refereeing or VAR, as it’s referred to, allows referees to make decisions based on slow motion replays of incidents, rather than relying purely on their own real-time perspective. VAR has already awarded 5 penalties, helping the the tournament total to 17, one short of the all-time record for the number of penalties given at a World Cup, but is the tech working as it should?

The Telstra, the Official Adidas World Cup Ball. Photo via Pixabay

VAR: Very Accurate Refereeing?

Everybody’s favourite pundit and England golden boy Gary Lineker is largely supportive of the system claiming that, “VAR working exactly as it should thus far”. He was quick to back the judgement of the system in specific circumstances too, saying of Iran’s emotional ‘equaliser’ against Spain that “VAR gets it right. Tough for Iran, but offside is offside.”

And, readers of The Versed agree with him. At least on Instagram, where 56% of you voted in favour of VAR while the remaining 44% voted against.

FIFA have officially said that it is “extremely satisfied with the level of refereeing to date and the successful implementation of the VAR system”. David Elleray, who is a technical director at FIFA and trains referees in the use of VAR has said that its use has lead to a more equitable World Cup.

When the calls go in your favour, it’s a good feeling. Just ask the Aussie Socceroo fans who were filmed yesterday chanting “VEE… AYY… ARR” after the technology awarded their side a penalty against Denmark, allowing Jedinak to stroke home to earn a point.

Elleray told BBC Sport that, “There have only been five reviews in the first 17 matches, which conforms to the global average of one in every three games. This is ‘minimal interference’ and with the outcome of three matches being directly affected by the VAR intervention this is ‘maximum benefit’ and a fairer World Cup”.

Gary Lineker is generally supportive of VAR. Photo via BBC

VAR: Very Ambiguous Refereeing?

There are of course those those who feel VAR isn’t doing the job in Russia. Which is likely to include many English fans after Harry Kane was clearly fouled in the box in England’s 2-1 win over Tunisia, only for the referee to wave play on.

Readers of The Versed on Twitter voted against VAR with 57% expressing dissatisfaction with the system compared to 43% who voted in favour. When taking an average of both data from Instagram and Twitter, 49.5% of The Versed readers think VAR is working while 50.5% think it isn’t.

Although Mr Lineker has showed support for the system more generally, he was certainly a little peeved when England were not awarded a penalty for the holding of Kane. His fellow pundits and former England stars Alan Shearer and Frank Lampard were equally baffled by the decision.

“Incidents like these are one of the major reasons for VAR. They were absolutely deliberate, and they were so cynical, but they got missed” Lampard said, while Shearer added that, “Kane wasn’t allowed to go anywhere because he was being held. I would love somebody in charge of VAR to explain why the holds on Kane in the penalty area didn’t result in fouls.”

But last night’s call to award Australia a penalty was potentially the most contentious ruling yet, drawing criticism from many. Daniel Storey, deputy editor of Football365 posted to Twitter saying, “That penalty decision is, for me, the fault of VAR. Watching football in slow motion changes the nature of the action. It ‘looks’ worse than it was. Creates a false impression of the sport”.

As the tournament progresses, VAR seems to be becoming progressively controversial. And to think that some said the introduction of VAR would remove talking points from the game.

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