Disallowed goals and a slew of retroactive penalties in the past month have teams and fans alike crying foul, and FIFA promising changes to its Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system. Discontent from VAR’s 2018 World Cup debut has escalated into outrage during the overlapping Women’s World Cup, Gold Cup, and Copa América tournaments. Rumors abound that VAR, rather than defending against soccer’s persistent corruption issue, has become complicit in bribery schemes. “You used to just have to bribe the referee,” explained a former FIFA official. “Now, if you also bribe a VAR official, you get two people looking for opportunities to deliver a favorable outcome.”
In the current tournaments, seedings for knockout matches depended on numerous group stage games that hinged on close VAR decisions. Suspicions have increased with the stakes, culminating in two recent semifinal controversies. The English Women’s team missed a finals berth after VAR disallowed a goal due to offsides, though the replay seemed identical to other tournament goals that VAR had upheld. In Copa América, Argentine fans are apoplectic over penalties in the semifinal against Brazil that went uncalled, despite the supposedly objective VAR review.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino held a press conference to address concerns. “We take corruption very seriously,” he pledged. Infantino went on to detail FIFA’s proposed solution, explaining, “We want to be able to convince everyone that results are genuine.”
Effective immediately, FIFA will implement a real-time review of VAR decision-making using an unprecedented Video Assistant Video Assistant Referee Referee (VAVARR). VAVARR will allow a third set of officials to check for bias in both the VAR booth and in any referee review on the field. Infantino dismissed concerns that adding a third layer increases complexity and potential delays, and instead touted the potential benefits. “We believe VAVARR will be the best way to ensure match quality and create exciting new opportunities to increase earnings for everyone involved.” Infantino paused. “I mean, to increase legitimate revenue.”