VAR technology is changing football, although the more advanced technology used at the World Cup will not be available to all countries.
If VAR had existed in 1986, one of the most famous goals in the World Cups would have been annulled: the move known as La Mano de Dios, when Maradona slapped the ball and opened the scoring for Argentina against England, would hardly have gone through judgment of the video assistant referee. The English would celebrate, but football would lose one of its most iconic moments.
Remembering historical moves that would possibly be canceled by VAR is an interesting exercise, although one of the basic premises of football is that the word “if” does not exist. In the end, what counts is the score when the referee whistles.
On the one hand, the use of VAR technology, implemented in 2016 with the aim of reducing refereeing errors, is managing to change football, correcting injustices and avoiding errors, it is also influencing results, confusing fans and nullifying at least doubtful bids .
On the other hand, according to commentators and former referees, the advancement of technology used in the World Cup will hardly be used in national championships because of the high cost to be implemented.
“VAR has many positives, but also negatives. One of the reasons football is the most played and watched sport in the world is that the 17 rules are universal, everyone knows them. You play football with the same rules in the World Cup do Mundo and in a field in the interior of São Paulo”, explains José Carlos Marques, professor of Communication at Unesp and former soccer referee.
“With the advancement of VAR, this no longer happens, there is a distortion. You have rich football, with super advanced VAR, and poor football that cannot afford this technology”, he says.
The best example is the so-called “semi-automatic offside”, which has drawn attention because of its precision in indicating that a team’s attacker is ahead of the opponent’s defenders.
The system is able to quickly indicate an impediment of a few centimeters, although in some bids this difference was not clear. This happened, for example, in a goal annulled by Croatia in the game that eliminated Belgium from the Cup, in the first phase.
In another bid, the efficiency and speed of the system drew attention: in just 31 seconds, the VAR indicated that a player from Germany was offside when he scored a goal against Spain, in the second round.
According to FIFA, the “semi-automatic offside” uses 12 cameras to track the ball and the exact position of the athletes ? he can differentiate 29 specific points on each player’s body, 50 times per second. A sensor determines the exact moment when the ball touches the author of the pass.
From there, ball data is sent 500 times per second to an artificial intelligence system that triggers the video referees if there is an offside. Then, the bid appears in a 3D animation, similar to video games.
“It is a very advanced technology, which is very expensive. When the World Cup is over, what will happen? In Brazil, for example, we already use a technology inferior to that of Europe. For now, this equipment is a very distant dream for most championships”, explains Renata Ruel, former referee and commentator for ESPN.
In Brazil, the championships use a technology that still depends on human action to function, and is outdated in relation to that used in European championships? and longer, too. The lines that determine the position of the players are drawn by an assistant in the video room.
In recent years, there have been decisive bids in which the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) itself recognized that the lines were drawn wrongly, as in a disallowed goal by São Paulo against Atlético-MG in the 2020 Brazilian Championship.
This happens because, when the players are very close, the lines of the attacker and the defender can overlap, leaving a doubt as to whether or not there was an infraction.
“Some specialists say that, in the technology used in Brazil, there is a margin of error that can reach 30 centimeters. This is a lot. So, in these cases, we don’t really know if there is an impediment or not. issue,” says Ruel.
For José Carlos Marques, FIFA’s new technology does away with the notion of “same line” in offside. “The referees considered that the players were on the same line when it was impossible to determine who was ahead. This benefited the attack, the goal, but now that doesn’t exist anymore”, he explains.
Goals annulled by just a few centimeters led fans and commentators, such as writer Luiz Antonio Simas, to call this type of move a “nano-impediment”.
Ball in hand
With VAR or not, another type of move that continues to generate controversy is the so-called “hand on the ball”, especially in penalty shots.
Until a few years ago, to determine whether there was an infringement, the referee needed to analyze whether or not the player had the intention to touch the ball. “The problem is that you can’t talk about intent in the rule, because that’s something very subjective,” explains ESPN’s Ruel.
Today, the main criterion is whether or not the player made a natural movement when the ball touched his hand.
“Now, the referees need to judge whether that movement of raising the arm was unnatural, but it is still very difficult to determine that, because everyone moves in a different way, there is no correct way to move. I think this analysis has become more difficult” , says the former referee.
A move from the first phase of the Cup exemplifies this dilemma.
In the game between Portugal and Uruguay, in the first phase, did the VAR call the field referee when a player from the South American national team touched the ball when he fell to the ground? he used his arm to break his fall. The referee confirmed the penalty.
For Ruel, the Uruguayan’s movement was natural and the infraction should not have been marked. Marques, on the other hand, believes that the penalty was clear, because the player could have avoided touching the ball.
“These constant changes about what a ball in hand is has become something for those who understand the rule. Someone always needs to explain why it was a penalty, because the fans don’t understand anymore”, explains Marques.
Another criticism that is made of VAR is that it interferes too much in the game and takes away the autonomy of the field referee in conducting the match.
“If VAR is used too much, practically in every bid he will find some irregularity. This breaks the game a lot. VAR showed us that referees make more mistakes than we thought they did”, says Ruel.
Because of this type of interference, an Argentine journalist coined a phrase that became famous in the sports chronicle: “The VAR was created to find elephants, but it is finding little ants.”
For Arnaldo Cezar Coelho, a former referee and commentator for decades on TV Globo, VAR “turned the referee into a robot”.
“There are a lot of people giving pitaco. The referee blows the whistle on the field, but there are a lot of assistants to judge what he did”, he says, who whistled the final of the World Cup in 1982, in Spain, won by Italy in a game against Germany.
For Coelho, the images analyzed by VAR can “lie”.
“The shot’s photography doesn’t always show the intensity of the play. If the players are running, one puts his hand on the other’s shoulder, and the other falls. If you watch it on TV, it may seem that the touch had an influence on the fall, and the arbitration scores a penalty. But only the referee there, on the field, will know the intensity of the touch, the strength of the players”, he says.
Marques, on the other hand, claims that the video referee was a response by FIFA to the fact that other sports have already used technology in dubious bids for years, such as tennis and volleyball.
“There is a fetishization of technology, an effort by programmers to bring the game closer to the video game, just as they try to bring the game closer to the real experience. There is the idea of applications that technology can solve everything with a click”, says Marques.
– This text was published in https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/geral-63815688