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Fifa’s referees chiefs admits VAR will not be 'perfect' at World Cup but can eliminate 'scandals'

Ben Rumsby
VAR will be used at the World Cup - AP

The men in charge of video technology at the World Cup on Tuesday admitted it would not be “perfect” ahead of the official debut of one of the biggest and most controversial changes to how football is played.

Video assistant referees will ­become a permanent feature of the game from Thursday when Russia kick off the sport’s flagship tournament against Saudi Arabia – whether it is ready for it or not.

Two years of global trials plagued by teething problems provoked a major backlash against VAR but that failed to deter Fifa from making the World Cup the first event to use it since changes to the Laws of the Game came into effect this month, allowing decisions to be overturned using video replays.

The Premier League refused to follow suit, voting against introducing VAR next season, with Uefa also postponing its use in the Champions League and new Nations League. That has compounded fears it could throw the World Cup into chaos and ruin a tournament on which the eyes of virtually every nation will be fixed for the next 4½ weeks.

Declaring technology would signal the end of the “scandals of the past”, Fifa’s referees chiefs nevertheless acknowledged on Tuesday that it was by no means a panacea.

Fifa will be looking for uniformity and consistency from VAR Credit: Getty Images

Massimo Busacca, the governing body’s director of refereeing, said: “I don’t think that it will be perfect. We ran very fast to implement this system. We had to understand what to improve. At the beginning, it was not so clear, but we said yes to VAR because we think we are ready.

“We will not be perfect but we are looking for uniformity and consistency. But it cannot be 100 per cent. It will always be a human ­interpretation. I am sure and convinced that the scandals of the past we will not see again. You can write about how long it takes. But that is peanuts compared to the correct results of the games.”

Busacca insisted Fifa had learnt from the mistakes and delays that marred the testing phase, including during the FA Cup and Carabao Cup. Busacca said: “Thanks to Italy, Portugal, France, to all the member associations who started with VAR and permitted us to ­understand what should be ­improved.”

Speaking at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, which will host both ­Thursday’s World Cup opener – which will be refereed by Argentine Nestor Pitana – and next month’s final, Busacca demonstrated how VAR would be used to impose a major crackdown on player behaviour at the tournament, warning it was now “impossible to miss” incidents that might have gone unnoticed in the past.

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The Swiss revealed the video briefing all 32 teams had been given about the offences match officials had been instructed to take a zero-tolerance approach to this summer.

The footage focused on serious foul play, denial of goalscoring opportunities, shirt-pulling, diving, mass brawls and dissent.

“This will be impossible to miss – impossible,” Busacca said, warning each match would be followed by “35 cameras”.

“VAR will be, if players understand it, an incredible way of preventing things from happening.”

Video Assistant Referees' uniform

Warning refereeing mistakes at World Cups “can change a lot, can change history”, he added: “We know this cannot be an experiment. We have to be ready and we are positive we are ready. The referees believe they can take important ­decisions alone.

“We are not doing the World Cup with only VAR. VAR will be a big support but we played the game for more than 100 years without it.

“Now we understand situations are very difficult and technology is there to support the referees when it is centimetres and difficult to see things with only two eyes.”

One of the biggest complaints about VAR – which can only be used for goals, penalties, straight red cards and cases of mistaken identity – has been that match-going fans have been left in the dark when decisions are being reviewed.

To prevent that, Fifa will show footage of every overturned decision on the big screen at stadiums.

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Pierluigi Collina, the chairman of its referees committee, said: “We took on board this issue. We need to make people aware what is going on.”

Collina, who compared modern referees to “Robocop” due to the technology they now use, also warned match officials would not hesitate to abandon a game at the World Cup if there was persistent racism in the stands.

Russian football has become notorious for discrimination by supporters and there has been a debate about whether England players should stage a walk-off if they were targeted during their own games.

Explaining the process which would initially see a warning issued over the public address before a game was suspended or called off, Collina said: “If something should happen, there is a clear procedure – the so-called three steps procedure.

“The referees know it very well. And, of course, they are ready to go through it when needed.”

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