Moscow: Football is practically the last major sport to start using video replay technology to help referees ensure they made the right calls on the pitch, and on March 3 FIFA took the decision to employ Video Assistant Referees (VAR) at the game's biggest tournament this summer: the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Pro tennis uses what it calls Hawk-Eye replays, basketball has instant replays, rugby referees consult video and American football referees have been making decisions based on video since all the way back in 1986. But the steady march toward VAR has caused some to say the essence of the game has been lost along the way, reports Efe news agency. FIFA is to set to implement VAR after testing its use in over 1,000 matches, and says an average of just 55 seconds per game was lost in reviewing replays. This comes out to a relatively minor amount compared to the average time lost due to fouls (eight minutes and 51 seconds), corner kicks (three minutes and 57 seconds) or player substitutions (two minutes and 57 seconds). However, VAR's implementation has not been unanimously welcomed, as many officials, coaches and players have opposed the idea of reviewing gameplay after the fact.

The former president of FIFA, Joseph Blatter, had said VAR could not be used in the World Cup because it would lead to significant changes in the games. FIFA's current president Gianni Infantino countered that the use of VAR would limit errors in the 2018 World Cup, increasing the success of referees from the current 93 percent to 99 percent. Infantino added that VAR technology would help provide a "fairer" World Cup this time around. However, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin has refused to bring in VAR for the European competitions next season, saying video replays would lead to considerable confusion. Italy coach Massimiliano Allegri complained that VAR would turn soccer into baseball because of the numerous interruptions caused by reviewing replays.

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Argentina coach Mauricio Pochettino has warned that VAR could kill soccer, while Croatia and Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric said it would create confusion. Why use VAR now? In the end, the position of FIFA and the International Football Association Board may have been swayed by the lingering controversy over so-called "ghost goals," such as England?s infamous did-they-or-didn?t-they World Cup-winning shot in 1966, which remains unclear to this day whether the ball crossed the goal line. More recently, a few of the matches in the 2002 Korea/Japan World Cup saw arbitrary errors, in some cases scandalous ones, but no strict decisions were taken to end the problem. Instead, two additional assistant referees were appointed for each match to indicate whether the entire ball had crossed the goal line. Everything began to change by the end of June 2010 when a referee disallowed a goal scored by England midfielder Frank Lampard against Germany at the World Cup in South Africa although the whole ball crossed the goal line. That same year, a goal that was clearly offside was awarded to Argentina's Carlos Tevez against Mexico.

Blatter, then president of FIFA, was forced to apologize to England and Mexico, and the door was opened for VAR's use, but only at the goal-line. Accordingly, goal-line technology was implemented at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and the IFAB first began testing VAR that year. Video replays were then used in the FIFA Club World Cup and the FIFA Confederations Cup, and since then have been put in use by some 20 soccer federations. Unlike other sports, FIFA has stressed that the referee is the only match official entitled to use the VAR, and neither coaches nor players can request its use. VAR assistants can inform the referee about incidents he may not have seen, but the referee is the one that has the final decision. The VAR team will be composed of a main referee and three assistants, all of them FIFA referees. In addition, four TV operators will be appointed to select the best angles for replays. Each of the tournament's 64 matches is to be recorded by 33 cameras, including two cameras for offside cases. The VAR team is to receive images in a room located at the International Broadcast Center in Moscow, Russia. The referee on the field will contact the VAR assistants through a radio system. When the main referee on the field of play wants to communicate with the VAR team, he will put his hand on his ear or, in cases where he where wants to review a certain replay, he will use both hands and act like he is drawing a square. (IANS)