This edition of the World Cup has been filled with upset, drama, and plenty of exciting football. There is a new player in the tournament this go around, an improvement from previously used technology. The Video Assistant Referee is Soccer’s answer to the NFL’s challenge flag. Previously in the 2014 World Cup, goal-line technology was implemented in every game to determine the position of a soccer ball in the event there is a contested or questionable goal. This year’s goal line tech improvement is a leap forward in more accurately determining highly consequential calls that are often missed or called incorrectly by referees such as hand-balls, penalty kicks, and offside calls that result in scores. While many celebrate the greater transparency and accuracy in a game plagued by consistent corruption scandals, many fans of the sport are troubled by the problems that could arise like subjectivity and unnecessary time wasting.
The VAR system relies on a team of FIFA referees stationed in a remote location with dozens of screens, with every angle of a contested play available. When the VAR team spots any of the four standards for VAR review (questionable goals, penalty kicks, direct red cards, and mistaken identity), they communicate with the officiating referee through an earpiece and direct them to an official video review board where they determine the outcome of a play and whether mistakes were made.
This technology has already taken soccer fans on roller coasters of emotions throughout the group stages. Most notably, the defending World Cup champions Germany were eliminated from elimination stages as a result of a VAR reviewed goal from South Korea that was called offside against the Korean team that initially negated the goal. After a VAR review, however, the goal was counted and along with it shattered the German National Team’s hopes of advancing.
This World Cup has already set the record for most Penalty Kicks awarded, and the with the elimination matches still days away, many people have VAR to thank for that. The game of soccer is one of finesse, and when games and tournaments can be decided by margins of a single goal or a handball penalty, attention to detail is imperative. VAR is just one example of how sports everywhere are taking steps to assure every game is played and officiated with the utmost integrity, while giving referees a much needed helping hand.