Hey everyone, welcome back to Mystery Monday. Today I have for you an article on the VAR and the Fair Play Rule in the World Cup and football in general. There may be another article on the way today, although I’m not certain if it will be ready today. But it is Mystery Monday after all, and you know what that means: anything could happen. Enjoy!
The VAR and The Fair Play Rule
The World Cup is back again this year, and we are already about halfway through. In fact, were only two weeks away from finding out who our World Cup Champions will be in this year’s tournament. But the noticeable thing that’s come from this particular World Cup is that there have been some changes, and there have also been some certain rules that have come into play for the first time in the tournament’s history. So let’s discuss this.
I’ll start with the rule that has come into effect this year for the first time in World Cup History. The Fair Play Rule was designed as a method of separating teams when it was otherwise impossible to split them in the Group Stage. It is used when two or more teams are tied in points and in goal difference at the end of the Group Stage. The rule is quite basic in its principle: whichever team has the least amount of cards, being yellow and/or red, will progress to the Round of 16, whilst the other team will not. It is a rule that has been around for quite some time, however has never had to have been used before this year’s World Cup tournament. In this case, it was used to separate Senegal and Japan in Group H, to determine which of these two teams would progress to the Round of 16. Both teams had 4 points apiece, and were both sitting on a goal difference of -1. This resulted in the Fair Play Rule coming into play for the first time in the history of the World Cup. Senegal had been given 6 yellow cards throughout their 3 Group Stage matches, whilst Japan had been given only 4, ultimately meaning Japan would progress over Senegal based solely upon this inadequate rule. Going into the Final Round of the Group Stage, Senegal only needed a win or a draw to progress, and could have still progressed with a loss, however only if Japan lost by 1 more goal than they did. Japan needed a win or a draw, depending on the Senegal v Colombia match. Japan went down 1-0 to Poland early in the second half of their match, meaning that Senegal were in prime position to go through, and that Colombia would most likely progress with them. However, Colombia managed to go 1-0 up in the 74th minute of the match, meaning Senegal were once again tied with Japan on goal difference. The Japanese head coach Akira Nishino, upon hearing of this occurring, got word out to his team who were playing at the time, alerting them to the fact that Senegal were down 1-0, and that as long as Japan didn’t concede again, they would go through based on the Fair Play Rule. Japan therefore killed off the game by passing the ball around in their own half, no longer attacking, and Poland seemed content to hang back and play along. And whilst Senegal made some great attacking plays in their match, it wasn’t enough to bring the match level. Therefore, Japan were sent through with Colombia to the Round of 16 as a result of exploiting the Fair Play Rule to its full extent.
Now here’s what makes this reasonably unfair. Each of the final two matches of the Group Stage for each Group are played at the same time. The reason for this is to prevent any form of skulduggery and to prevent the other teams from knowing what result they need to progress. So the sheer fact that Japan were able to go through after the coach found out what was occurring in the other match and changing the team’s tactics as a result of that has demonstrated that there is, realistically, no point in having the two matches played at the same time. They may as well have had the Japan v Poland match played after Senegal v Colombia. The reason being that Japan knew what was going on in the other match and so halted their attack in order to prevent Poland from scoring again. Now Japan were slammed for doing this after the match concluded, and, in all fairness, rightly so. Japan exploited what is one of the most ridiculous rules in football in order to progress to the Round of 16. And whilst some people would say that anyone would do the same if they were in that scenario, that if they were head coach they would have done what Nishino did, and that Senegal would have likely done the same, you wouldn’t know that for certain. Why? Because simply, you aren’t the head coach, you weren’t there, you don’t know what Senegal would have done, and everyone is different in their ways of thinking. So realistically, that argument is very much invalid.
And now to the Fair Play Rule in general. This rule is probably the most unreasonable rule that has been put in place by FIFA, a football governing body that has seen the worst that corruption has to offer. And, to be quite honest, I don’t think the corruption has been completely eradicated from this organisation just yet. The Fair Play Rule is in reality quite the opposite of what it is called. It’s not a fair rule at all, it’s very much unfair and inadequate. In order for this rule to be fair, the standard of refereeing would have to be the exact same across the board. And that is most definitely not the case when it comes to the World Cup. Each referee is different, and some are harsher than others. This would result in some teams being dealt more cards than others, be they yellow or red, due entirely to the referee who is officiating their match. Therefore, if this is the case, which it clearly is, then the Fair Play Rule is rendered completely invalid. And so the fact that a team goes through based on this rule is entirely unfair to their opponent. And so the way in which a tie in points and goal difference is decided must be changed.
So to some suggestions. There are a few ways to decide who progresses in the case of a tie in the Group Stage which are much fairer than the Fair Play Rule. An attack based rule could come into play, in which the team to progress would be decided based upon the goals they have scored, and potentially even the number of shots on target they have had. This would encourage attacking play, and would make the game so much more exciting. And it would prevent teams from just killing off their match early by just passing the ball around in their own half and wasting time to wind down the clock, something which teams have been given yellow cards for before. The other option is to have a play off match between the two teams in question. There is at least a day in between the conclusion of the Group Stage and the commencement of the Round of 16. This is enough time in which to have a play off between the two teams which are tied, and this could be played in the same way as a knockout match, in which one team must win. Extra time and penalties would therefore be in play, and only one team would come out on top, progressing to the Round of 16, whilst the other would bow out of the tournament. This would be much fairer than the Fair Play Rule, and would be a much more just way of determining who progresses. If one thing is for certain, the Fair Play Rule must be eradicated.
Now I want to move on to the second thing, the VAR. The VAR, which stands for Video Assistant Referee, has only recently entered football, being introduced in the A-League in Australia, and now being used in the World Cup. And whilst it has proven to have made some good decisions, changing things that should be changed and pointing out things that need to be pointed out, it is not all good. The VAR is a system that is controlled by referees. Referees sit in a room filled with screens displaying a number of different angles on the pitch, so that decisions can be reviewed from every angle necessary. And whilst the issue may not be within the VAR itself, rather in the referee/s who are in control of the system, the VAR is proving to be a step in the wrong direction. Actually, make that a leap in the wrong direction. It’s not making the game better, it’s not benefiting the game entirely. In fact, it’s actually ruining the game.
The problem with the VAR is partially in what it is doing, and partially in what it’s not doing. For example, in the match between Australia and Peru last week, Peru’s first goal came from an offside position. The player who set up the goal was offside when the ball was passed to him by a player who was close to the middle of the field. Although the ball did touch one of the Australian players before the Peruvian player who was offside got the ball, he was still offside, which makes the goal invalid due to offside. This would have been a perfect time for the VAR to review what had occurred and step in to alert the referee on the field to the offside. However, there was no VAR review at all, and the goal was allowed without question, changing the game entirely. And then, a few days later, in the Senegal v Colombia match, Senegal were given a penalty by the on field referee after one of the Colombian players had made a dangerous tackle on Senegalese striker Sadio Mane in the box. The referee had pointed to the spot and called for a penalty, however, the VAR decided it would be a good time to step in, and told the on field referee that they did not think it was a penalty, and that he should review it and change the decision. And so the referee took a look at the footage, and ultimately changed his decision, denying Senegal a clear-cut penalty which would have changed the game. Therefore once again, the VAR changed the game entirely.
There is one very noticeable thing about the VAR, something that many have already picked up on, but which may have slipped by unnoticed by others. The VAR is very much benefiting and working in favour of European and South American teams, and working against teams from other continents/countries. It may seem like I’m saying this because I’m sceptical of the system and the way in which it is working, and you may think I’m trying to start a conspiracy or something, but let’s be realistic, I’m not. I’m just pointing out the very clear fact that the VAR seems to have been used in favour of the big teams from Europe and South America, teams like Portugal, Spain, Colombia, etc.. And teams from other continents/countries, like African and Asian teams such as Senegal and Australia are losing out to the system. The VAR is doing more damage to the sport than good, and it is obvious that it needs to go. Even when it was used in Australian football, in the A-League, which was the trial football league for the technology, the VAR was doing more harm to the league than good, and it was not actually benefiting it. It is still being used in the A-League, and it will undoubtedly do more damage to the league for as long as it exists within it. And then you can look a the English Premier League (EPL). The VAR system/technology was offered to the EPL and they said no. They made probably the smartest decision you could make when offered technology such as this. They knew it would ruin English football, and they didn’t want that to happen, so they declined it right front the outset. And realistically, the VAR should be eradicated entirely from the world of football.
So to wrap this one up, I just want to make a few final remarks. The Fair Play Rule must be eradicated, there is no doubt about it. The rule is highly unjustified and does not work, will never work, without the refereeing being to precisely the same standard across the board, which is highly unlikely to ever occur. There are better ways to separate teams which are tied at the end of the Group Stage, and a play off would likely be the best option to decide which team progresses to the Round of 16. And the VAR must also be eradicated from the world of football. This technology is doing more harm than good, and is damaging one of the greatest sports in the world, one of the most loved sports in the world. Technology has no place in football, and it never will.