World first for A-League on Friday

Will it bring an end to all of football’s controversial decisions?
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It’s unlikely, as anyone who watches Test cricket where rows over the Decision Review System knows.

But it’s not often that the A-League can win plaudits for being a global leader, as it will this Friday night when it becomes the first top-tier competition in the world to trial the Video Assistant Referee System (VARS) in a league match.

The use of technology should at least alleviate some of the splenetic criticism directed at referees from fans.

And, as ‘s director of referees, Ben Williams points out, being able to take counsel from colleagues watching incidents in replay on a video screen could save match officials from “those three or four sleepless night after a game when they are going over in their mind how they might have made a howler.”

Officials from the sport’s governing body, FIFA, and soccer’s law-making body, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) will be at AAMI Park to watch Melbourne City try to resurrect their finals hopes when they play Adelaide United in this historic game.

The system has been trialled in a number of games in various competitions – the second-tier and MLS Cup matches in the United States, international friendlies last week, the Club World Cup at the end of last year – but the FFA is happy to be a groundbreaker in utilising it in a league match for competition points.

It is similar to that used in rugby, rugby league and cricket, where “eyes in the sky” (in this initial case a cramped room on the second level at AAMI Park) can review controversial or disputed decisions and have them overturned if there is an obvious error.

The FFA will use the technology in the last two games of the regular season, then throughout the finals.

If all goes well, and FIFA and the IFAB observers are happy with its implementation in (and in other leagues, which are due to introduce it sooner rather than later), VARs will be in action at all A-League fixtures next season.

So how does it work?

‘s refereeing boss, Williams, says the underlying principle behind using VARs is to “improve the game” and it can only be pressed into service to help match officials in four key areas.

1. Goal /no-goal decisions.

2. Penalty/no-penalty decisions.

3. Direct red cards (not second yellow cards).

4. Mistaken identity.

In all these situations, the VAR is used after the referee has made a decision (including allowing play to continue), or if a serious incident is not seen by match officials.

“We want minimum interference for maximum benefit. We will not be re-refereeing the game,” Williams stressed at a media briefing on Tuesday.

“Only if the decision is clearly wrong will the video referee intervene.”

Williams and the head of the A-League, Greg O’Rourke, said they were very confident that sufficient trials and practice had been conducted to ensure the system works smoothly.

There had been 26 live match trials, and tests had also been conducted at every venue, said Williams.

Nine current and former referees, the latter including Strebre Delovksi and Craig Zetter, have been instructed in the skills required to be video adjudicators.

“The referees have responded very positively … they see it as an opportunity to get out of a jam,” Williams said.

“They have the chance to see a replay and, if it’s a clear error, have that decision corrected. They know they have a safety net.

“But they will not be changing the way they referee the game. They will make a decision and referee the game as if there were no Video Assistant Referee there.”

Some fear that the technology intrusion will over-complicate matters and games could stretch beyond the 90 minutes with a few extra minutes of stoppage time each half.

Williams said that is unlikely, pointing out that in 12 trials of A-League games there had only been 24 key match decisions, with only three involving the kind of errors that would have needed to be changed.

“If there is doubt we are generally not going to get involved. We want to use it rarely.”

Still, some players, coaches and fans will want to claim all manner of issues should be reviewed.

Williams says he and his team have anticipated dealing with what he diplomatically calls “misunderstandings of the protocols” – if protagonists wanted “soft penalties” or incidents outside the four areas of review to be looked at.

The system is likely to be tried at the Confederations Cup later this year, and possibly used in next year’s World Cup.

HOLD THAT CALL

The sort of decisions which might be subject to VAR scrutiny.

1) Sydney defender Michael Zullo’s handball in the derby against Western Sydney Wanderers. Obvious error, penalty would have been awarded.

2) Nicolas Colazo’s goal for Melbourne City v Adelaide. Referee blew his whistle when he saw assistant’s flag had been wrongly raised for offside an instant before Colazo shot for goal. Had referee not blown to stop play, the incident would have been reviewed and a goal likely been given. Officials hope assistants will in future be slower to raise flag, knowing that any close call can be re-examined.

3) Diego Castro’s theatrical tumble for Perth v Adelaide last weekend. Decision would not have been changed, because there had been contact, however, slight, and it was not an obvious error.

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