Commentary

Video replay in soccer: suggestions for its better implementation

With the industrialization of soccer, the Laws of the Game (LOTG) started to change to answer the demands of industrialized soccer. The first major change came with “the specialized linesman” in the early 1990s. Until then, there was no distinction between the referee and the linesman. It was thought that one could do both functions equally well.

In early 1990s, not only the specialized linesman was introduced, but Law 6 was rewritten and the Law was titled “The Assistant Referees.” In the same years, the fourth official and the technical area were introduced into the LOTG. In those years, International Football Association Board (IFAB) and FIFA started to distinguish between grassroots/amateur and professional/industrialized soccer. We have to wait until the year 2000 for the introduction of technology into refereeing. The first electronic tool used was the beeper flag. This prevented the referees missing the assistants’ flags due to poor positioning. In the later years, the crew of four started to use communication devices so that they can talk to each other during the game.

When in the 2010 World Cup in the game between Germany and England Frank Lampard’s goal was not awarded, FIFA decided to take some measures in order to circumvent such misfortunes. In that game, the crew consisted of specialized assistant referees with communication devices, but sometimes the ball travels faster than the assistant referee can move. Nobody can fully blame the assistant referee in that game for not signaling for a goal, although replays showed that the ball clearly passed the goal line.

This started a power struggle between Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini. Blatter, the FIFA president at the time, favored the goal line technology (GLT) whereas Platini, then-UEFA president, was the advocate for the use of additional assistant referees (AAR). As my earlier article indicates, I believe the days of the AAR will be over soon at least for the national leagues. The GLT is an expensive tool ($250,000 per stadium) but many leagues including the EPL are using it. With the use of the GLT, the usage of AARs as “goal judges” will be redundant. Although cases like Thierry Henry’s last-minute handball that led to the goal that eliminated Ireland in the 2010 WC playoff game are still valid issues for the use of AARs. In that game, Henry has used his hand in the goal area to pass the ball to William Gallas for the decisive goal.

This year’s LOTG changes included among many other things the change of the title of Law 6: “Other Match Officials.” Now Law 6 covers assistant referees, fourth officials, AARs and reserve assistant referees. Very soon we will see an addition to that list: Video Assistant Referees (VAR). In the last decade industrial soccer have been pressuring the lawmakers of soccer, namely IFAB, to make changes in the LOTG so that teams in tournaments or leagues do not lose a game and hence millions of dollars attributable to an officiating error. They want the use of video technology in the decision-making process of referees.

Many other team sports like football, basketball, ice hockey, baseball, rugby and volleyball already use video replay technology to confirm calls made by officials on the field or on the court. They have different methods and rules, but they use the feed of the broadcaster to make final decisions on some calls. There is an important difference between soccer and the above-mentioned sports. Soccer is a free-flowing game played without any stoppages except for injuries. The game restarts immediately after a decision, sometimes even without a whistle. In soccer, there might be parts of play which is more than five minutes long without any stoppages. Baseball and volleyball has no time limit. Football, basketball and even to some extent ice hockey have a number of stoppages, including timeouts. Rugby (both union and league) is a game similar to soccer in terms of fluency but still have more stoppages than soccer.

It is assumed that VAR will be in the LOTG by 2018 or by 2019 at the latest. The first trial of video replay in an official tournament was carried out in the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan recently. During the tournament, the video replay technology and VAR were only utilized twice, but the process was neither smooth nor seamless.

The first utilization was for the decision of a penalty kick not seen by the referee. During the second half of the semifinal after a free kick, an attacking player was pushed by a defensive player in the penalty area. Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai either did not see the infraction or decided that it was a trifling offense not worthy of a penalty kick. The ball was in play for 46 seconds and then went out of play for a throw-in. The VAR notified the referee via the telecommunication device that he should review a position. Kasai went and watched the position from a screen all the way across the field. After 2 minutes and 17 seconds from the infraction, Kasai decided for a penalty kick. It took another 2 minutes and 2 seconds for the kick to be taken. The players were completely confused. A total of 4 minutes and 20 seconds were lost in the process. David Elleray, IFAB’s technical director said, “Referees do not have to wait until the ball goes out of play -- they can stop the game for a review as soon as the ball is in a ‘neutral’ area, i.e. when neither team has a good attacking possibility.” Although the time lost can be added to the end of the half, I believe this whole process, as that which took place in the semifinal, is not in the free-flowing spirit of the game.

The second utilization was during the final game at the last seconds of the added time. First, Paraguayan referee Enrique Caceres awarded the goal, but then he hesitated -- whether on his own or by a warning from the VAR we do not know -- and asked for a video review for a possible offside. Then in a matter of seconds he made gestures to indicate that the goal was valid. The game ended with a kickoff and a lot of confused players. This short process did not bring too much support from the public for the VAR concept either.

Let us summarize the VAR system. The VAR system consists of a VAR situated somewhere in the stadium viewing all the camera feeds of the broadcaster. There is also a screen on the field not close to the benches for the referee to review the incident under replay. Unlike other sports, the challenge of a decision is not allowed by either team. The referee is the final decision-maker with the help of the system and the VAR.

FIFA and IFAB wants to implement the video replay under the following match-changing situations (***):

Goal scored -- Revision of potential infringements of the Laws of the Game in the build-up to a goal, including offside, foul, handball or any other relevant infringements or offenses;

Penalty decision -- Revision of potential infringements of the Laws of the Game within or nearby the penalty area, resulting in a (potential) penalty kick, or in case a penalty kick has been awarded incorrectly;

Direct red-card incident – Revision of potential infringements of the Laws of the Game resulting in a (direct) red card.

Mistaken identity.

My suggestions for a better implementation of the VAR system are as follows:

The camera feeds must be standard in all stadiums. So the league and the refereeing department must decide on the number of cameras and their locations for each stadium. You cannot have 10 cameras in one stadium and 15 in another in the same league. With the video replay system in action, the broadcaster has now another customer to please, namely the refereeing crew.
IFAB must come with two standard signals for the referee asking for a review and the reversal of a decision based on video replay. Those I believe should be added the other standard signals in the LOTG.

Since the VAR will not be refereeing like the fourth official or the AAR, they can be chosen among retired officials. Especially for leagues with limited top level and experienced officials this might be a savior. Because for the best results both the referee and the VAR must be at the same level of expertise, experience and knowledge.

Since the system will be coupled with GLT, there will not be Lampard goal/no-goal cases to review.

Unfortunately, this system can only be used effectively for disallowing goals. In this case, either the Referee can consult the VAR or the VAR can intervene. Since the game is stopped for a goal there will not be an extra stoppage. For goals that were disallowed this system might not change the outcome. Since while disallowing the goal the Referee blew his/her whistle, even if the decision is incorrect one cannot allow the goal to stand since with the blown whistle the ball became out of play.

For penalty kicks, the system can be used effectively to decide whether the offense occurred inside or outside the penalty area. Since the game is stopped for a foul, extra time will not be lost.
I have some concerns about penalty kick decisions not seen or called by the referee. First of all, these might be gray decisions. (In soccer terminology there are black/white decisions and gray decisions. Black/white decisions are those that every referee will agree on, whereas gray decisions can go either way. The assessors are asked to support the referees on gray decisions). The referee might have seen the incident and decided not to call it. The VAR and the referee might think differently and the VAR might intervene. Naturally, the referee has to right to overrule the VAR but that brings other “political” problems. Also right after the missed foul in the penalty area, the ball might go out of bounds or the game might be stopped for an infraction. Before the VAR reviews the missed foul from different camera angles, the ball might be put into play, making the award of a penalty kick impossible. So I do not think the interference of the VAR for a missed foul by a defender in the penalty area is a wise decision and might cause serious delays, as witnessed in the semifinal game in Japan even though Elleray advises referees to stop the play without waiting for a stoppage.

Since after the awarding of a penalty kick, there will be a stoppage the VAR can ask the referee to review the case and if the referee sees clearly that he/she made a mistake the game can be started with a drop-ball.

In case of orange card offenses -- ones that the referee cannot decide whether the challenge is reckless (YC) or using excessive force (RC) -- the referee can ask for a review. VAR should not intervene for a foul that the referee has seen and called even though he/she might disagree with the disciplinary action. For off-the-ball violent conduct actions that the Referee did not see, the VAR should and must intervene.

Each potential DOGSO incident must be reviewed. From the field of play, the referee might not be able to judge all the necessary four preconditions of a DOGSO efficiently. Since the game is stopped, the referee can easily review the play to decide for a caution or a sending off. With the new LOTG regarding DOGSO in the penalty areas, the review of DOGSOs is now even more important.

For mistaken identities and/or players with a second yellow card, the VAR must inform the referee so a second Graham Poll incident of the 2006 World Cup -- it took three yellow cards for Poll to send off Croatian Josip Simunic -- is not experienced.

These are my suggestions without knowing the inside story. I am confident that IFAB have reviewed similar suggestions and many more.  I just wanted to introduce the new concept to the readers and provoke some beneficial arguments.

At these early stages of the video replay in soccer, one cannot expect very smooth and seamless applications. It is a correct step in the correct direction for the game that was initially meant to be played in a fair manner but which has now turned into a multi-billion dollar industry. The industry and its demands cannot be ignored. Unfortunately, with all the technologies utilized in the game, there will still be humanly mistakes by the players, the coaches and the referees.

With or without the video play system, our beautiful game requires fair play more than anything else.

Ahmet Guvener (ahmet@ahmetguvener.com) is the former Secretary General and the Technical Director of Turkish FA. He was also the Head of Refereeing for the Turkish FA. He served as Panel member for the FIFA Panel of Referee Instructors and UEFA Referee Convention. He now lives and works as a soccer consultant in Austin, Texas.
3 comments about "Video replay in soccer: suggestions for its better implementation".
  1. Allan Lindh, December 29, 2016 at 11:23 p.m.

    The clear omission is Offside Calls. If they were included, then AR's can be instructed to implement the Offside Rule as written -- give the advantage to the Offense. Then if a goal is scored, the decision can be reviewed. Games will flow better, and more goals will be scored. And AR's will learn to let play go if there is any chance the play is onside. And garbage goals scored from scrums in the box will be be eliminated when offside should have been called.

  2. Bob Ashpole, December 30, 2016 at 2:51 p.m.

    I prefer AARs to video replay, as AARs don't stop the match. Combined with radio communication, it is a practical and more effective solution, although still subject to human error.

  3. beautiful game, January 2, 2017 at 10:27 a.m.

    AAR monitoring is the best solution for in-box reviews. Issues can be resolved in 15-20 seconds without impeding the flow of the game. I would again suggest that the off-side rule be changed to "daylight" instead of "partial advantage" between the opposing players. In addition the mayhem during free kicks must be totally eliminated and enforced.

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