Column: VAR is the newest questionable change to soccer

A giant screen reports a VAR incident is being reviewed during the Confederations Cup, Group A soccer match between Portugal and Mexico, at the Kazan Arena, Russia, Sunday, June 18, 2017. (Martin Meissner/AP)

A giant screen reports a VAR incident is being reviewed during the Confederations Cup, Group A soccer match between Portugal and Mexico, at the Kazan Arena, Russia, Sunday, June 18, 2017. (Martin Meissner/AP)

In the last few years, FIFA and UEFA have tried different technology to improve the fairness of the game. From referees behind the goals to goal-line technology in the last World Cup and now VAR.

VAR, or Video Assistant Referee, is being used in the big stage of international soccer.

Portugal and Mexico played their first match in the Confederations Cup Sunday. In the 20th minute of the match, Portuguese defender Pepe opened the scoring, but the cameras didn’t follow the Portuguese team celebrating. All eyes were on Argentinian referee Nestor Pintana as he heard the advice from VAR.

The goal didn’t count because Pepe was offsides.

According to FIFA.com, VAR will be used in four specific cases: goals, penalties, red cards and mistaken identities. Yes, believe it or not, there have been situations where a player has been mistaken for another and received a yellow card.

VAR will involve a three-step process. First, the action occurs. Then, VAR reviews the play and advice is given. The referee can accept the advice or choose to review it himself. Finally, a decision is made regarding the play.

Two hours later, Chile and Cameroon were playing their game. As the first half dawned, Eduardo Vargas was able to break Cameroon’s defense and score on a ball played through the lines.

When replay showed that Vargas was very close to being offsides on the play, VAR was used again, leading to the goal being disallowed. The entire Chilean team protested the decision to the referee.

Video replay is used in American sports to review calls, and there it is considered  part of the game. Soccer has never used any type of technology and because of this, the sport has been under fire for a number of controversial calls.

During the 2002 World Cup, Spain was the victim of two disallowed goals that gave the host Korea the chance to take a game to penalties and advance.

In that same World Cup, USA and Germany played in the quarterfinals and a German defender denied a go-ahead goal with an uncalled handball in the box. 

This has been the bread and butter of soccer for years: controversial calls that are examined for hours after the game has ended. How could have the call changed the game? Did the call change the game at all? Should technology be used to avoid these situations?

In American sports all the time, video replay is natural and part of the game. Soccer has never used this and I just kind of accepted that these calls, although unfair, were part of the game.

Soccer doesn’t have long pauses, or at least it shouldn’t. VAR just feels weird. It stops the flow of the game and takes away from the excitement of the goal narrated by the play-by-play commentators. Especially Spanish ones who scream forever.

VAR also requires that every goal be reviewed, even goals that don’t have any type of controversy.

And as we saw in Chile’s game, there is only so much that can be seen in the video review. Does it help at all?

Perhaps. There will always be a margin of error in these calls. Human referees are limited in and how fast they can follow the play, so their margin of error is greater. In Pepe’s case, it was clear that he was offsides. I don’t understand how the sideline referee didn’t see it. If the goal had counted, it would have been a gross error and would have started another conversation about technology.

I am not a fan of VAR, but I’m not used to technology being used in soccer, so maybe in the future I will change my mind about it.

"Outside the Lines" reporter T.J. Quinn touched in the issue of technology in baseball, another sport where fans do not welcome changes.

“I’ve said all along this is inevitable. The nature of technology is that if it’s available, it will be used eventually,” Quinn said in a tweet.

So maybe VAR will stay. Or maybe it won’t. But with technology available, something else will try to change the game.


Daniela Marulanda is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at daniela.marulanda@uconn.edu.