You may have noticed something different in the 2018 World Cup. For the first time ever, the Virtual Assistant Referee (VAR) system is being used to help make decisions during games. And already we are seeing it cause controversy.
It’s no surprise that VAR has caused debate, considering the furor that surrounded VAR in the English FA Cup and the Bundesliga. But although VAR receives huge attention, we should not forget that it is only the most visible example of the digitalisation of football, where data and technology is used to improve performance and decision-making. And digitisation is already transforming the game of football. But it is also leading many people to fear that the game is changing too fast and leaving fans behind.
Decision making on the field?
VAR is a form of technology that is supposed to help referees make near-accurate decisions. As the game progresses, assistant referees away from the stadium watch instant replays of incidents. Over wireless headsets, they communicate with the referee, advising them on any game-changing incident. VAR is supposed to only assist referees in four main areas: goals, penalties, red cards and mistaken identity. But ultimately, the referee still has the final decision.
In 2017, VAR was introduced into the FA Cup for the first time. It was quickly blamed for ruining “the beautiful game”, by players and managers alike. Specific matches, especially between Tottenham and Rochdale in the FA Cup quarter final, caused particular ire after a Tottenham goal was reversed by VAR for reasons that were unclear.