LONDON – Northern Ireland’s elimination from the World Cup playoffs via a fiercely debated Switzerland penalty has reignited the debate over whether technology should be used at next year’s finals in Russia.
The spot-kick awarded in Belfast against Corry Evans proved the difference between the sides over two legs, prompting angry words from the Irish players who believed the ball had hit the defender’s shoulder.
TV replays supported that assessment yet no technology was available to official Ovidiu Hategan as the Video Assisted Referee (VAR) System which is currently being trialled in several leagues was not deployed
“In the days of video referees, why wouldn’t you overturn that decision?” said former Northern Ireland striker Iain Dowie on Sky Sports. “It was horrendous and yet it is people’s livelihoods at stake.”
Although FIFA president Gianni Infantino is pushing for the technology to be used in next year’s tournament, a final decision will not be taken until March and not everyone supports his view.
“We’ll end up like baseball in the United States, where there are constant stoppages and we sit there eating nuts until the match ends at midnight,” Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri said.
“In my view, technology should only be used on objective situations – offside, in or out of the box, over the line or not – but when it comes to subjective situations, people are never going to agree. That’s sport.”
Despite his objections, many observers view VAR’s use in Serie A since August as a qualified success, with supporters adjusting to the unfamiliar situation of going back to have incidents reviewed by the referee’s off-field assistants.
Roberto Rosetti, the former referee heading the Serie A experiment, says three mistakes are being avoided every game and the average review time has dropped from 1 minute, 22 seconds to 40 seconds.
There has been controversy in Germany with supporters protesting against the system where confusion surrounds its application.
The original idea was to restrict its use to four defined areas at the referee’s request, but six games into the season German magazine Kicker revealed that VARs were being told to contact officials whenever they got something wrong.
There has been on-field conflict as well with Leipzig sporting director Ralf Ragnick caught on camera showing a replay of a contentious tackle to the referee on his mobile phone.
But for many, the real test remains the World Cup finals, the game’s global showpiece event. FIFA used the technology in this year’s Confederations Cup, claiming that six “game-changing decisions” were corrected in group matches.
“The definitive decision will arrive in March but we can’t imagine a World Cup in 2018 being decided by a referee’s error,” Infantino said. “You have to help the refs and that happens through technology.”