FIFA trains video refs for Russia and promises to keep fans in the big picture

By Andrew Warshaw

April 19 – Amid widespread concern about supporters being left in the dark, FIFA have confirmed that giant screens will be used at World Cup matches for replays of incidents decided by the video assistant referee – accompanied by written explanations.

Ever since football’s lawmakers gave the green light last month for the VAR system to make its tournament debut in Russia, sceptics have questioned whether it will be too premature.

One of the most nagging issues was informing spectators about the reason for any VAR-related stoppage.

“We will have graphics on the giant screens, we will have replays after the decision on the giant screens, and we will also inform the fans about the outcome of a VAR incident and review,” explained Sebastian Runge, FIFA’s group leader of football innovation.

How it will work is that FIFA will follow the Bundesliga model of a central control centre. “We will have all of the referees based in Moscow so there won’t be any stress in terms of travel,” said FIFA referees chief  Pierluigi Collina.

For each match, Collina will select one VAR and three assistant VARs. A FIFA official in the so-called video operations room will inform the stadium screen operator and broadcasters as soon as the referee makes contact with the Moscow-based VAR.

Thirteen VARs have so far been pre-selected among the 99 World Cup officials selected for the World Cup and are being trained at Italy’s Coverciano complex. Three of them come from Italy’s Serie A and two from Germany’s Bundesliga – competitions that have been trialling the system this season.

In theory the VAR model is only supposed to support the referee in four game-changing situations: disputed goals, penalty decisions, direct red card incidents and cases of mistaken identity. But in both Germany and Italy the experiments have been fraught with controversy, not least over ridiculously long delays in the decision-making process.

On Monday, Mainz were awarded a penalty during halftime against a Freiburg side whose players had already left the pitch for the break.

“Yesterday we had already discussed this incident here and gave match officials and VARs clear indication about what should be done if something similar in FIFA competition – specifically the World Cup – happens,” said Collina who nevertheless cautioned that VAR wasn’t the panacea for all the game’s ills.

“The goal of VAR is to avoid major mistakes. The objective is not to have clear and obvious mistakes committed on the field of play. This is the target, the goal is not to re-referee the match using technology.

“This has never been the target – not to scrutinise every incident on the field of play. This has to be clear, otherwise there can be a difference between what VAR is designed for and what people are waiting for. There will continue to be incidents when a final answer will not be given and there will be different opinions.”

“I know that from the point of view of communication, talking about this, which is the big news, is very appealing, but I think it is important to underline the work done by the referees to avoid having to resort to VAR. Only then, if something bad happens, having this parachute will surely help them.”

FIFA believe they have gone some way to stemming possible widespread confusion across the 11 World Cup venues and among billions of TV viewers.  Crucially, the replays will not be shown inside the ground while the referee is in the process of making a decision, only after a final decision is taken.

“If we showed what is happening on the screen before the decision, there would be some reaction. We don’t want the referee to be influenced by the crowd,” said Runge.

FIFA’s announcement comes just 24 hours after UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said VAR needed further testing before it could be used in the Champions League.

“I have some fear for the World Cup, where we will have referees who have never officiated with the VAR,” Ceferin told Italian paper Gazzetta dello Sport in an interview.

Additional reporting by Samindra Kunti in Coverciano, Italy.

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