As technology continues to advance, it continues to change sports as we know them. From the way we watch, with huge TV’s affecting attendance at games as people would rather watch in the comfort of their own home, to new gear like the latest basketball shoe that is designed to be as light as possible but still maximize ankle support, to our experience in stadiums, with different apps to buy your tickets and interact with other fans at the game.
One huge way it is affecting a lot of sports is the way things are officiated. In baseball, video replay has been introduced to the game over the last couple of years, and managers can now challenge umpire calls. In hockey and basketball, we saw plenty of examples throughout each’s playoffs where important calls went to replay to see if a goal crossed the red line completely, or if the basketball was still on a player’s fingertips when the clock ran out. In American football, we have the biggest controversy annually over video replay, as it seems to often overcomplicate things such as whether a receiver made a catch or not. And in soccer, especially on the huge stages of last year’s Euro tournament and this year’s Womens’ World Cup, VAR (Video Assistant Referee) is becoming a point of discussion as well.
VAR in soccer is a little different than it is in other sports. Whereas in other sports, video replay can’t be used to call a foul or penalty, or take away a foul, in soccer, it can be used for this purpose.
Above is a great example of such. Manchester United and PSG clashed in the Champions League, with Man U needing one goal to go to the next round, as only seconds remained on the clock. Presnel Kimpembe, a PSG defender, jumped in front of a shot, blocked it, and Man U players immediately pleaded with the ref for a penalty for a handball on Kimpembe. Because it happened inside the box, this handball would have resulted in a penalty kick for United. After VAR review, the penalty was given, and Marcus Rashford stepped up and scored the penalty kick to send United through to the next round. But the play itself- It was very subjective. Some referees likely would have called it no handball, even after seeing it on video with all the different angles and slow motion that VAR offers.
This is the issue with VAR- it takes the spirit of the rule out of the equation, and leads to games being decided by a video instead of on the field. Manchester United had plenty of time to try to score this last goal that they needed to go through, but could not, until VAR became involved, and a call that may or may not have been made by some refs, even with the video assistance, decided the game.
This issue has also taken center stage at this year’s World Cup. There have been three times where a penalty kick was forced to be retaken because the goalkeeper was ruled to have come off her line before the kick was taken. Below is an example of that:
On penalty kicks, the rule, technically, is that the goalie is not allowed to step forward off the goal line at any point before the ball is kicked. However, as anyone who watches soccer could tell you, this rule is called EXTREMELY inconsistently. It is an issue of, again, a subjective rule. Many times, refs will see the goalie *probably* step a half foot over the line before the ball is kicked. But because that really doesn’t create any advantage to the goalie, they won’t call it. However, when VAR is introduced into the equation, if a ref goes back to the video, and rules that even a toe was clearly over the line, the ref has to order a retry of the penalty. This has happened multiple times already this World Cup, and will likely decide another very important game before the competition is over.
This is why VAR is creating an issue in soccer. It is causing too many plays that should come down to a referee’s personal decision, have to go to a video where the decision is somewhat out of the ref’s hands, and the rules have to be followed to the exact letter even if it is not the reason the rule was put in place. After this tournament, I believe FIFA needs to review VAR, what it should and shouldn’t be able to be used for, and hopefully use it for its benefits that it can help with (whether the ball went completely over the goal line/out of bounds or not, things like this), and not to impose itself on the game.