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VAR horrors: World Cup 2019

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tragedy encapsulated?

Canto: It might be surprising to know that besides our many supertalents we’re sports aficionados, and of course experts, but in order not to overwhelm our fan we’ve decided to limit that interest, largely, to one sport, soccer, which we’ve never spelt f-o-o-t-b-a-l-l. Hope that doesn’t offend.

Jacinta: Well I’m happy to offend, so I strongly advocate calling this year’s comp, and those following in 2023, 2027 etc, the World Cup, and that other comp shall henceforth be called the men’s world cup.

Canto: Probably won’t catch on until the world’s turned upside down.

Jacinta: The world’s a ball, dummy, there’s no up.

Canto: The human world’s more like a pyramid, and we’re pretty close to the base…

Jacinta: Is that Trump’s base?

Canto: …which is why we can’t afford to watch all the games – as if we had the time – as they’re not being shown free-to-air. But apart from the full Australian games we can see the (very brief) highlights and follow the commentary and the controversies. Which brings us to the VAR (video assistant referee), which has been introduced for the first time ever…

Jacinta: Except in the men’s game, which isn’t real soccer…

Canto: For the first time ever, at any level, in this World Cup.

Jacinta: So the VAR isn’t actually a video, it’s a person, or team of people, watching and evaluating a video – including the on-field ref. And according to ever-reliable Wikipedia, they review all refereeing decisions under four categories:

  • Goal/no goal – attacking team offences, ball out of play, ball entering goal, offences and encroachment during penalty kicks
  • Penalty/no penalty – attacking team offences, ball out of play, location of offence, incorrect awarding, offence not penalised
  • Direct red card – denial of obvious goal-scoring opportunity, serious foul play, violent conduct/biting/spitting, using offensive/insulting/abusive language or gestures
  • Mistaken identity in awarding a red or yellow card

If the VAR makes a decision overturning that of the on-field ref, which is only in the case of a COE (clear and obvious error) she has the option of conducting an OFR (on-field review), using a video screen, clearly visible to all, in the RRA (referee review area). The problem is, I’ve noticed that the VAR is picking up more stuff than the field referees have done – or could have done – in the past, so it’s already changing the character of the game.

Canto: Good or bad?

Jacinta: I’m not sure. Let’s discuss some examples. Take this one. In the game against Brazil, Australia’s Tamika Yallop went down in the penalty area after a clash with a Brazilian defender, as she was heading towards goal with the ball. A shout went up, and of course the VAR had to adjudicate on the basis of penalty/no penalty. As part of this process, we the audience get to see, in slow motion, what the VAR has seen (which is perhaps a dangerous thing, if only for our blood pressure). The commentators – who I think were biased for Australia – seemed to agree that it was a definite penalty, but what the video clearly revealed was that, moments before the incident, as Yallop was surging into the penalty area, the ball bounced up, hit her on the arm and bounced off kindly for the Australian. It was because of this handball, not seen originally by the ref, probably because the Brazilian was tightly marking her, that the penalty issue didn’t need further consideration. A free kick was awarded to Brazil. But if there was no VAR in operation, that handball wouldn’t have been picked up, and the penalty would likely have been awarded – with no complaints.

Canto: Actually I think some Brazilian players did see the handball and tried to draw the ref’s attention to it, but you’re right, if neither the field or line ref saw it directly, they wouldn’t have ruled on it, and Australia might have gone on and scored. But don’t you think it’s a good thing that the VAR picked it up?

Jacinta: Errr… let’s go on to the next example. Now as you know, I have dual loyalties, being a dual citizen of the UK and Australia. I was born in Scotland and brought up with some Scots traditions, and was mildly excited to find Scotland in this World Cup series, I think for the first time. So imagine my shock when, after hearing (I could only listen on the radio, like an old-timer) that Scotland had gone 3-0 up against Argentina and were very likely to qualify for the round of 16 after losing their first two matches against England and Japan. But then, Argentina came surging back with two goals in the second half. Even a narrow win gave Scotland a chance, but then, at 3-2, and <em>in the last minute of time added on</em> – the 94th effing minute – Argentina were awarded a penalty.!!</p>
Jacinta: Errr… let’s go on to the next example. Now as you know, I have dual loyalties, being a dual citizen of the UK and Australia. I was born in Scotland and brought up with some Scots traditions, and was mildly excited to find Scotland in this World Cup series, I think for the first time. So imagine my shock when, after hearing (I could only listen on the radio, like an old-timer) that Scotland had gone 3-0 up against Argentina and were very likely to qualify for the round of 16 after losing their first two matches against England and Japan. But then, Argentina came surging back with two goals in the second half. Even a narrow win gave Scotland a chance, but then, at 3-2, and in the last minute of time added on – the 94th effing minute – Argentina were awarded a penalty.!!

Canto: Quelle horreur! Was it a fair decision?

Jacinta: Fuck knows… Sorry, feeling a bit emotional. I was listening to it on the effing radio! I only saw it on the highlights the next day, and by that time I was too depressed to care. But that’s not the end of the drama. Argentina took the penalty, and Lee Alexander, our goalie, saved it! Frabjous Day! But then, she was ruled as having come off her line by a nanosecond! And get this – not only do the players have to get used to the beady eye of the VAR, but a new rule was brought in on June 1 – a week before the World Cup – which  ‘means that goalkeepers must have one foot at least partly on the goalline when the kick is taken and can neither stand behind or in front of the line’ – and I quote the words of the obviously neutral sports journalist, John Irish. That means that goalies have to adjust their approach to penalty kicks after a career of doing otherwise – a week before the biggest event of their lives!!! But I haven’t finished the story. The penalty was retaken – and this time Argentina scored, but according to the commentators, players were encroaching on the penalty area before the spot-kick was taken!!! Please note above – Goal/no goal ‘encroachment during penalty kicks’. And the ref didn’t even consult VAR about it!!!

Canto: Okay, calm down. You must surely admit that the Scots stuffed it up, just a bit, to get into their parlous position, dropping from 3-0 to 3-2 in quick time. And did you see these players encroaching?

Jacinta: Well, no, I was far too emotional to be forensic about it. But you know what foreigners are like – they’re all bloody cheats. It’s an effing conspiracy I’m telling you. Of course they want Argentina over Scotland in the finals, it’s good for business!!! They probably think they’ll get a chance to play Messi!!! 

Canto: Well you don’t need to worry about that – he’s only a male.

Jacinta: Oh yes I forgot. Anyway, I’m not sure if we’ve heard the worst of the VAR. My worry is about the flow of the game, which, if VAR is extended – which I expect it will be – to other parts of the game, in a micromanaging sort of way, it will become overly stop-start and technical. but maybe that’s the future… Then, in order to comply with VAR, we’ll replace humans with androids… 

Written by stewart henderson

June 21, 2019 at 7:12 pm

Posted in Soccer, world cup

Tagged with , ,