REUTERS: Soccer’s rule-makers must decide on Saturday whether it is worth risking the flow and spontaneity which makes the sport so special for the possibility of cutting down on refereeing mistakes.
The International Football Association Board (IFAB) is expected to decide whether to approve the use of video replay technology (VAR), a system that would allow referees to look again at key decisions that have been made in a split second.
It is a decision which many feel could have a fundamental effect on the game, as trials of the system have already shown.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino is VAR’s leading supporter and has promised it will be used at this year’s World Cup if approved by IFAB.
Infantino said it would wipe out controversies such as the contentious penalty awarded to Switzerland in November that proved decisive in their World Cup qualifying playoff against Northern Ireland.
Infantino has argued that, in competitions where VAR is already in use on a trial basis, the number of mistakes have been reduced.
But there are questions as to whether it is taking the soul out of the game.
There have been some cases of players waiting for several minutes to take a penalty before the referee has reversed the decision and awarded a free kick to their opponents amid general bewilderment.
In others, players have scored goals, the entire stadium has celebrated and the score has flashed on live scoring websites, only for the incident to be reviewed as the other team is about to re-start the game and the goal annulled.
“My verdict is absolutely negative; players don’t hug each other after scoring a goal any more, instead they look straight towards the referee,” said Lazio coach Simone Inzaghi.
“It takes the excitement away from us and the fans. For me, it’s removing the adrenaline and my enjoyment of football.”
Before trials began last year, IFAB said the idea was for “minimum interference, maximum effect”.
According to IFAB protocols, VAR should only be used in judging goals, penalties, direct red cards and mistaken identity.
A 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.
IFAB’s technical director David Elleray said he preferred to see one review per four matches rather than the other way round but his advice has not always been heeded.
Serie A referees, in particular, appear to have been striving for perfection, sometimes reviewing incidents where a player was centimetres offside and where, although there had been a mistake, it was not an obvious one.
UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin has said he believed VAR needs more time before it can be more widely used and has already said it will not be used in next season’s Champions League whatever the outcome on Saturday.
“For me, I see a lot of confusion from time to time,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean that I’m against it or that I don’t think it will happen.”
Another question is how, if experienced referees have not got it right after several months, can officials from other parts of the world be expected to adapt in a matter of weeks for a World Cup.
FIFA holds four of the eight votes on IFAB — the others are split between the four British national associations. Six votes are needed for it to be introduced.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino told Reuters on Monday that he remained committed to VAR.
“If we, or I, can do something to make sure that the World Cup is not decided by a referee’s mistakes, then I think it’s our duty to do it,” he said.