Six years after an Italy-France game in Bari became the first international where Video Assistant Referee (VAR) was used, FIFA has brought the technology to the 2022 under-17 women’s World Cup. Not much has changed in the set-up since− it is in the laws of the game so there cannot be major deviations. What has, according to Jaime Yarza, director of FIFA tournaments, is that in this competition, only women are in charge.
“Until recently, they were lacking in experience in this due to a lack of opportunities,” said Yarza over the phone from tournament headquarters in Navi Mumbai. “But for this tournament, we are using only women referees.” It is with an eye on the 2023 women’s World Cup and other tournaments, said Yarza. Kari Seitz, FIFA’s head of women refereeing, has said this is the last chance for match officials to show what they are capable of on the world stage.
This is the third FIFA women’s competition after the 2019 World Cup and 2022 under-20 World Cup where VAR is being used.
Some competitions have VAR control rooms at the stadium but for the under-17 World Cup, being held in Bhubaneswar, Navi Mumbai and Goa, it is centralised. All 16 video match officials are based in Navi Mumbai. “It is that way because the broadcasting centre is also in Navi Mumbai. The VAR centre here is next to the IBC (International Broadcasting Centre),” said Yarza.
Since it is based entirely on television footage, VAR works in collaboration with the official broadcasters. For this tournament, each venue has 13 cameras with feed from all being used for VAR, according to FIFA.
FIFA regulations stipulate a minimum of four cameras for VAR to be used. They are: a central wide angle camera, a central tight angle camera and two 16m or similar cameras to assess off-side situations.
At the centre in Navi Mumbai, live footage from each game is being tracked by one VAR referee and one AVAR (Assistant Video Assistant Referee), said Seitz in an email to HT. All 61 match officials—14 referees, 28 assistant referees, three support referees and those dealing with VAR—had to participate in a five-day pre-competition seminar, she said.
“This included practical training with players with a full VAR system, theory sessions in the classroom and training with the VAR simulator.”
All match officials also needed to have VAR certifications before coming to India.
VAR disallowed a goal by Spain against Colombia on Wednesday at Navi Mumbai’s DY Patil Stadium. “There are two ways this could have gone,” said Yarza. “The referee could have asked VAR if there was a situation. Or VAR could have informed the referee that it needs to be reviewed.” Only one person, the video assistant referee, is talking to the referee, he said.
“They discussed until a point where the referee decided she needed to look at the situation on her own. Because it is only the referee on the pitch that can take a decision. She saw the images and made the choice of disallowing the goal.”
After eight games in the under-17 World Cup, there have been three on-field reviews, FIFA said.
It took one year to complete the installation, said Yarza. Most of the time goes in laying cables for camera positions and setting up power lines, he said. That is done by the host country in consultation with FIFA, especially on camera positions. That may mean clearing a section of the stands, said Yarza. “Once this is done, setting up the cameras takes two to three days. It is almost plug and play.”
Yarza said he couldn’t give a cost estimate because he didn’t know how much it cost the Indian stakeholders but said FIFA picked up part of the tab.
He also said “it is very expensive.” The patented technology will be introduced in Scotland after the World Cup in Qatar and 42 top-flight clubs will pay nearly £1.2m in total, the cost being split in descending order according to their position in the league table, said a Sky Sports report. Just one reason why even though Indian Super League uses 14 cameras for broadcast, India cannot afford VAR.