VAR Could Have Stopped the Hand of God!

VAR has caused a lot of issues during this World Cup.

Smiles, tears, anger, joy etc. A referee doing the screen sign has ignited different kinds of emotions in Russia. However, with the number of video assisted referee decisions in Russia 2018, we must accept one fact, technology has invaded our beloved Football.

With over 30 VAR decisions reviewed in the last few weeks, it has been mixed reactions in terms of level of acceptance among football lovers around the world. A good number of the reviews are handled in this piece by ESPN. Some major decisions include Diego Costa’s first goal against Portugal, France’s penalty against Australia as well as Sweden’s penalty against South Korea.

Brazil wanted a penalty for Vincent Kompany’s challenge on Gabriel Jesus. Getty


However, the real problem for VAR here is that sometimes far too many people do not know why a decision was reached, or what was even considered, this can cause confusion (particularly in venues with no big screen) but FIFA says they are working on a system to keep supporters informed.

What does it Mean?

The Video Assistant Referee system, known as VAR, is football’s first use of video technology to reach more correct decisions. After previous trials at the FA and Carabao Cups; German and Italian Leagues, a vote was made to introduce the system permanently to games following the unanimous approval of the International Football Association Board in Zurich in March.

The 2018 World Cup is the first using video replays although goal line technology was successfully employed in Brazil four years ago.

 When does the VAR come into play?

Many people think, the Video Assistant referee can be involved at any point of the game, but there are major areas where the system is consulted. It can only intervene in the course of a match when the officials have made a ‘clear and obvious error’ in one of four key areas. The system is restricted to these areas in order to minimise disruption to the flow of the game.

  • Goals

A close offside decision is the most common reason for VAR being consulted after a goal has been scored, however, shirt-pulling and other infringements can also result in major decisions. It is also important to point out that clear and obvious errors do not apply to offsides, a player is either onside or offside, so even if it’s a matter of inches, the goal will be ruled out. The role of the VAR is to assist the referee to determine whether there was an infringement that means a goal should not be awarded.

Enrique Caceres was a frequent VAR booth visitor, he gave two penalties and opted not send off Cristiano Ronaldo. Maja Hitij/FIFA via Getty Images
  • Penalties

This is the most subjective and arguably one of the most problematic areas. Penalty decisions can be awarded or rescinded using the VAR if there has been a clear and obvious error in the referee’s decision.


  • Straight Red Cards

VAR decisions can penalise violent conduct and dangerous tackles but not second yellow cards are usually not in contention. This is still within the purview of the official’s decision.

  • Mistaken Identity

If a referee sends off or books a wrong player like the famous incident with Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in Arsenal’s 6-0 loss in 2014, the decision can be rescinded.

Meanwhile, VAR cannot be used for an incident once play has restarted after being stopped. If it fails to spot and flag up something prior to a free-kick, goal kick etc, it is too late. However, new FIFA regulations do give referees the power, backed by VAR to retrospectively punish at half time for incidents that were missed.

 How does it work?

The video referee speaks to the centre ref via an earpiece, who will then put his hands up to pause play and inform the players that a decision is being reviewed. If satisfied that there is no error, he will signal for play to restart or the VAR decides—In this instance the referee will draw a rectangle with his arms to replicate a TV a screen. The video referee will review the incident and the referee will make the same signal if he wishes to change his decision.

Now Maradona most likely cannot do the hand of God in peace again!

What has been your most conflicting VAR decision in the World Cup so far?


Opeyemi Olugbemiro

Your tech story amazes me. When you think of a tech innovation that makes life better, you've caught my attention. #SerialOptimist Contact: opeyemi@zumalo.com