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VAR in Brazilian Football: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

For most football fans, the introduction of VAR (Video Assistant Referee) is a sign of modern times. Supporters and football federations have been calling for some form of technology since officials failed to award Frank Lampard’s “goal” at the 2010 World Cup. England, losing 2-1 to Germany at the time, were denied an opportunity back into the contest after a clear error of judgment from the referee and his assistants on the pitch. Had the appropriate VAR system been put into place ahead of the competition, the outcome of that contest may have been different. We cannot dwell too much on the past but situations like that must surely support a worldwide inclusion of video technology in soccer?

But Brazilian supporters think otherwise. The beautiful game of football, played for decades on the white sandy beaches in Rio de Janeiro, is changing – technology is becoming central to post-match discussions rather than admiration of pure footballing skill and talent. Earlier this month, Brazilian clubs opted to vote against the introduction of VAR in the first division, a somewhat surprising outcome according to local media. It was fairly close in the end; 12-7 in favour of no technology, with money being a key reason for the negative vote. Most clubs were annoyed that they, rather than the Brazilian Football Association, would have to foot the bill. And, at an estimated cost of £11,000 per match, you can understand why some clubs would be keen to oppose VAR’s introduction. Even with the technology, there is no guarantee that the system will get every decision spot on. There is still plenty of room for debate, as seen below after Kelechi Iheanacho scored the first ever goal in English football to be decided by VAR.

With all due respect, Brazilian’s domestic division is not of the same standard as one of the top European leagues. The Royal Spanish Football Federation have confirmed that VAR will be implemented in Spain’s top flight ahead of the 2018-19 campaign and the technology is already in use in both Germany’s Bundesliga and Italy’s Serie A. The Premier League, once regarded as the cream of the crop for domestic soccer, is lagging behind though and VAR has already caused plenty of controversy in English football. It has been used on a trial basis in the cup competitions and supporters are still coming to terms with the system and how the referee on the pitch is given the information. There is certainly some confusion with the current format in England and many English fans have reservations over VAR’s introduction.

Will it ruin the pace of the game? After all, this isn’t tennis or rugby union. Hawkeye is now an integral part of most major tennis tournaments and it is easy to see why. It works like an absolute dream; a player is given three challenges at the start of a match and can refer the umpire to Hawkeye if he believes an incorrect call has been made. Get the decision right and the player gets to keep that challenge but an incorrect dispute leads to the loss of said challenge. Tennis is a much simpler sport than football though; the ball is either in or out. With football, managing certain decisions can be very difficult indeed for the referee. And, with that in mind, there is a solid basis to argue for VAR.

Technology is already at the heart of football, whether we like it or not. Goal-line technology has been a huge success that is now widely available in most major competitions, and so it should be. In addition, the impact and influence of  mobile devices and tablets on streaming live football has helped to enhance the image of the sport, particularly with betting companies - many of whom advertise their products before, during and after major events. Most of these betting companies now allow punters the chance to bet during matches and in-play wagering, in particular, is huge in South American football. Soon enough, bettors may have the chance to stake on whether VAR will be required in a particular game – that is how important the technology could be. Based on its impact on European football, it is only a matter of time before VAR comes into play. If the technology is there, it should be enforced. The Brazilian Football Association could come to an agreement with the domestic clubs in order to ensure that a deal for the right video system is made. For the time being at least, £11,000 per game is just too high of a figure for most Brazilian clubs.

For those who are still very much unsure of what VAR is and how it is used, the technology will be in place at the 2018 FIFA World Cup this summer. Brazil, well fancied to challenge for the Jules Rimet Trophy, will be quietly confident ahead of the tournament and most, if not all, are already up to speed with VAR. For supporters, it could go one of two ways. VAR can be confusing but, if FIFA follow the Bundesliga’s example, it shouldn’t be an issue. There was a slightly confusing VAR-related scenario in Serie A earlier this month, as it took three minutes for the officials to get a penalty decision against Juventus correct – much to the dismay of the Fiorentina players.

Is three minutes really that long though? Well, it does majorly disrupt the game and that could lead to an abnormal amount of stoppage time. One way around this issue would be for the officials to stop the clock whenever the VAR technology is required and then restart the timer once the match resumes. Taking the pressure off the officials and using more accurate technology should be enforced in all aspects of the sport – not just for offside decisions and debatable penalty kicks. Football needs to move with the times and the BFA must be willing to work closely with the Brazilian clubs in order to enforce such a change in dynamics. You aren’t immediately going to win everybody over on this issue though; it will take time.

Older football fans will be fed up with the VAR debate but it is an exciting new era for younger viewers. The good? VAR is enabling referees to get more decisions right and that can only be positive for the sport. According to a Sportskeeda article, the VAR success rate in Serie A has been at an outstanding level. In 309 cases, 288 decisions have been made correctly, and that figure will surely improve even further as officials get to grips with the system. People have doubts about VAR’s implementation and how/when it should be enforced – and that is a huge problem. In Brazilian football, finance is key. Striking a deal between the BFA and clubs is an absolute must and, from there, we could see VAR feature prominently in the not-so-distant future.


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