All eyes will be on A-League video trial

History will be made this weekend when an Asian football competition, Australia’s A-League, becomes the first top-level league in the world to implement the use of video review technology.

Following on from last year’s FIFA Club World Cup in Japan, those who have long been advocating for a more modern approach to the game will finally get to see a live demonstration of the technology at play.

With fears that the game may be slowed down though by frequent reviews that can often bedevil other sports, the review system – termed, the VAR (Video Assistant Referee) – will only be implemented in a limited number of situations.

They are: to deal with decisions over whether a goal was either correctly awarded or not; whether a red card was justified or not; cases involving mistaken identity and whether a penalty should or should not have been awarded.

The former Dutch national star Marco van Basten is FIFA’s chief officer for technical development and he is a firm advocate of the technology – a position not necessarily shared by all players or supporters.

Speaking with FIFA.com the long-serving AC Milan forward said that use of the VAR would help to eliminate any argument over whether or not the correct decision was made during a game.

“It’s good for football and helps the game a lot,” he said.

“This is something that eradicates the big incorrect decisions, which is FIFA’s goal.”

Moves to allow the technology to operate in a domestic competition have been underway for several years with the guardians of the laws of the game, the IFAB (International Football Association Board), giving the green light to the development last year with Australia swinging into an eight-month trial period shortly thereafter.

Testing the technology in both offline and live setups at the national youth competitions at state and national level, Football Federation Australia (FFA) believes there will no complications when Melbourne City host Adelaide United tomorrow evening to kickoff the VAR era.

Speaking in the buildup to that clash, the head of the A-League, Greg O’Rourke, said it’s a groundbreaking moment for the global game.

“Since the dawn of Association Football there have been controversial decisions and that will continue,” he said.

“With the advent of broadcast technologies, referees have been the only individuals that have not been able to benefit from the use of video replay technology. That changes this week.”

The mantra of the VAR from both IFAB and FIFA is ‘minimum interference with maximum benefit’ but critics have questioned just why the system is being implemented at the end of the Australian season. There are several teams still jockeying either for a playoff spot or the crucial home advantage that comes with finishing in an higher position over the final two rounds of the regular campaign starting this week.

If the goal of the technology is to ensure, as various A-League types have suggested, that no club should be unfairly affected by decisions which could see them relegated or not win a title then the late season move certainly seems at odds with those objectives, given the standard collection of controversial calls that have occurred across the season to date.

The hope though is that if everything goes off without a hitch during this period, then VAR will become a permanent fixture not just in Australia but across the footballing world.

For Southeast Asian leagues, that could have a profound benefit – if nations can afford to both purchase the technology required and employ the extra officials needed to sit in judgment on those decisions.

As history has shown, the region is certainly one of the global hotbeds for match-fixing. If there was a third party, removed from those officials at the game, involved in decision making then any kind of inducements for match officials to either award questionable penalties or issue unwarranted red cards can be greatly reduced if not eliminated entirely.

Proponents of the system in Australia have been adamant that it won’t slow the game down, arguing both that VAR will only be used in situations where a ‘clear error’ has been made and that there are ‘natural’ stoppages of play regardless of when goals are scored, penalties awarded or red cards shown. That allows a seamless period where those decisions will be automatically reviewed.

Problems can obviously occur in reverse though – where play is waved on after a penalty is denied or a yellow rather than red card is produced and the VAR takes a look and decides to overrule the on-field official. That has a fundamental impact on the way the game has historically flowed.

It comes down then to the ‘traditionalists’ who don’t want technological interference in the game versus those who believe that if the sport has the capability to ensure correct decisions are taken then that should be employed.

Those in the first camp aren’t often heard to deride the advancements made in, say, the weight and flight of the ball, increased production standards that see boots and shirts as lightweight and efficient as ever or even simple things such as better drainage that allows the game to be played in far better conditions than would have occurred in the water-logged days of yore.

For those who want to cling to the past it’s also worth remembering that when ‘modern’ football first emerged from Europe a century and a half ago, the world was a vastly different place.

Travel was still largely undertaken by ship, the telegraph had only just been invented and telephones, cars, film and even fire extinguishers were not even dreamt of.

The world moves on, the sport moves on and with football now both a game for the world and a business where careers can be vastly altered by a lone decision, the move to embrace technology – if it doesn’t snip at the fabric of the game – should be embraced wholeheartedly.

Much of the football-loving public across Asia and beyond should be watching with anticipation events in Australia this weekend to see what could well be the future of the sport unfolding.

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