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Are VAR’s actually futuristic, or just reinventing the wheel?

Video Assistant Referees (VAR’s) are the new hot topic in world football, after stuttering into life last night at the Club World Cup.

The one problem Video Assistant Referee technology has left unsolvedBut rather than improving the game, they appear to be largely ignoring the one problem they set out to solve. This is a particularly important issue for Australia, as in June this year, the A-League raised its hand to become one of the first leagues in the world to trial the new technology.

It was Hungarian match official Viktor Kassai that made history in Kashima Antlers’ semi-final against Atletico Nacional by awarding a penalty following a lengthy video referral – the first match-changing incident decided by VAR’s at a FIFA tournament.

Originally, Kassai had failed to spot a push on Kashima’s Daigo Nishi in the box, yet almost two minutes went past before the decision was made to refer the challenge to a team of assistants watching video replays.

After the assistants made subsequent replays available to Kassai on a pitch-side monitor, Kassai conducted his own review, and the decision to give Antlers a stalemate-breaking penalty was finally made. Shoma Doi scored the resulting spot kick and Kashima surged on to win the game 3-0, booking a glamorous final berth against either Real Madrid or Club America.

Yet what should have been a glorious moment for the millions of Japanese fans and neutrals watching intently around the world, in reality, ended up a confused and sluggish process that even bewildered the commentators. In short, if this technology is going to be implemented in the A-League, there are still some mountainous kinks to be ironed out.

The last thing football needs anywhere, but especially in Australia, is more stoppages. The A-League is ad-break free during play, an underestimated point of significance in the ongoing struggle over the saturated Aussie sporting market.

Flowing football allows for an immersive, engaging point of differentiation to the NRL and AFL, and is a cohesive argument against the idea that football is the slower-paced, less exciting contest. But leaving code-wars to one side for a moment, can football globally really afford more halts to the action either?

When it comes to time wasting, the Premier League is one of the worst offenders. Teams like Stoke City and Burnley, despite their enthralling work-rates, often play 90 minutes divided into five-minute bursts, punctuated by minute-long goal kicks and throw-ins.

Burnley manager Sean Dyche was even quoted as saying in a 90-minute game, the ball is only in play for about 60 minutes. He is probably right. In most of his side’s matches, the ball boys spend more time in possession than any specific player. Which is great for keeping them alert when they’re not getting kicked by Eden Hazard, but it does not exactly make for ripping viewing.

Maybe this is where FFA will sit up and take notice. For all the talk about the broadcast rights negotiations and ‘growing the pie’, there has been little discussion about potential recipe changes and how they might leave a bitter taste in the consumer’s mouth.

If time wasting is not going to be dealt with, and there is very little enthusiasm on offer for strict enforcement, then surely any other process that delays proceedings for more than 10 or 20 seconds should be looked at with grim suspicion.

We are not just talking about goal-line technology, where it is a clear-cut matter of an instant review; VAR’s deal with highly complicated, subjective rulings that require deliberation. In tightly fought contests, these incidents happen all the time, which means either more boring stoppages or key incidents ignored regardless.

Last night’s experiment taught us that VAR’s are still a clunky, awkward system. Despite complaint, it is worth remembering that officials, for the most part, do a decent job. They deserve technological assistance to subdue pressure wherever it is easily enacted but never, ever at the overall expense of the game.

The problem seems to be that VAR’s are mainly necessary because of the proliferation of diving and play-acting anyway. If it was not for strikers flinging themselves into the air every time they get a nudge in the box, there would not be such fundamental pressure on referees to constantly make match-changing decisions.

VAR’s will not do anything to stop diving; players will still try to fool the officials. All they can hope to accomplish is to make diving less successful, which at the expense of timely interruptions, is clearly the wrong way to deal with the problem.

If FIFA wants to take pressure off referees, they need to return to retrospective punishment. Teams of officials can view contentious issues post-match, similar to the process for physical altercations, and if players are found to have substantially over-exaggerated or fabricated contact, lengthy suspensions can be employed.

It will tackle the issue at its source, which many pundits say is the coaching staff themselves. It seems obvious that managers would tell their players to go to ground if they think they will get rewarded. If there is a reasonable chance of hefty punishment, even if it is after the fact, suddenly staying on your feet is a much more attractive proposition.

All too often, the arguments against retrospective punishment appear lazy. The idea that most instances are too nuanced for decisive action are an insult to the expertise of officials and ignore the proliferation of camera angles and recording equipment at their disposal.

It is almost as if critics do not understand diving’s colossal blight upon the beautiful game. It tears away respect and provides a barrier to new audiences, especially in lucrative markets where football competes with other contact sports, such as Australia and the United States.

If a player clearly emphasises contact, rolls around clutching their face and then is up five seconds later, sprinting down the touchline, there is clearly room for some form of retrospective action. Like VAR’s, there will be potential for error. But unlike the current system, retrospective punishment is about respecting the 90 minutes, not disrupting it.

Originally published at outside90.com

Post written by Lucas Radbourne-Pugh, Twitter: @lucasradbourne
for Outside 90, Blog: outside90.com, Twitter: @Outside90

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