Video Assistant Referees at the FIFA Club World Cup

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FIFA have announced that referees will be able to use a pitch-side monitor for the first time to review decisions when the Club World Cup begins in Japan on Thursday.

The long-overdue verdict will permit on-field referees the ability to make the final decision, but they’ll be relying on the video assistant referees to clarify clear mistakes in serious incidents.

FIFA’s chief of technical development Marco van Basten has said the move “represents a big step forward.” He furthered this by saying, “ultimately, these tests should prove invaluable in terms of determining whether the processes are sound or whether any further refinements are needed.”

Why are video referees needed?

In the simplest terms, video referees are needed as a cover for mistakes from the on-field official. A number of incidents in this season’s Premier League have already highlighted their need. None more so than Sergio Aguero’s elbow on Winston Reid in the match between Manchester City and West Ham in September.

On-field referee Andre Marriner claimed to be unsighted at the time, when in fact he’d simply made the wrong decision. The reluctance of the officials to admit to making honest mistakes has only lead to calls for video technology to get louder.

Following on from this incident, former referee Mark Halsey, in a series of tweets, proclaimed that he was pressured into changing his view of an incident so a player could be sanctioned. Whether Halsey is telling the truth or not, the claims should have been investigated, although the issue could have been made redundant much earlier, had video technology already been introduced.

What are the arguments against video referees?

One only has to look at the influence that the TMO holds in rugby to understand the pitfalls of the concept. The TMO has undermined the confidence of the on-field referee to such an extent that every time a try is scored, the decision is sent upstairs on the slight chance that a minor infringement might have occurred and subsequently missed.

That’s the scenario highlighted by FIFA officials, but it can be avoided. If the referee takes control of the game and only hears from the video official when necessary, then the system will be fine. The error in rugby is when referees ask for guidance with a decision, they lose their autonomy.

Words by @dominictrant