The Premier League, the wealthiest and most popular national football league in the world, announced yesterday that it plans to make post-match talks between field referee and video referee (VAR) public. The decision brings football closer to the crystalline practices that have been followed in sports such as rugby and field hockey for more than a decade. It’s an average endorsed by the International Football Association Board (IFAB), the world’s highest authority on the rules of the game. Spanish arbitrators are wary of the idea of making public the communications that form the basis of their most contentious trials.
“The general consensus is that the release of the audios will be good for everyone,” said Richard Masters, executive director of the Premier; “There is a desire to be more open with the fans about the referee’s decision-making process.”
The IFAB warned that the Prime Minister’s plan fully respects the rules of football. “There is no problem as long as the audios are broadcast after the games,” a regulator source explained; “and whenever it is for educational purposes, transparency or information.”
The Technical Committee for Referees, which depends on the Spanish Football Federation, is reluctant to systematically publish the dialogues between the VAR and the field referee. According to a source from the panel representing Spanish referees, the release of the audios is only allowed in exceptional cases, when the integrity of the judges is questioned, such as when Victoria Pavón, President of Leganés, denounced the VAR He had failed to Voiding a penalty kick against his team in 2019 for a foul committed outside the box.
The Technical Committee of Referees of Spain experimented with publishing audios for educational purposes only once in 2019. “This CTA can be criticized, but never for a lack of transparency,” announced the former President of the Referees, Velasco Carballo, at a media-only act in which the conversation between José Luis Munuera Montero and the VAR referee, Melero López, due to an action that saw Vinicius fall in the area during the match between Real Madrid and Real Sociedad at the Bernabéu in January 2019 and was apparently gunned down by Jerónio Rulli.
Munuera failed to call a penalty and the listener buzzed. “I want to see it, I want to see it, please don’t take it up again,” Las Rozas’ Melero pleaded. After carefully examining the images, Melero concluded that Rulli was not to blame: “Nothing… José Luis, everything OK.” The sequence caused such outrage in the media closest to Real Madrid that the Technical Committee the referee never released the audios again. But now, following the Prime Minister’s announcement, Spanish referees admit that the natural course of events leads football to be equated with hockey, rugby, American football or soccer. Soccer.
The United States led the way. Communications between Major League Soccer VAR umpires and VAR umpires are now regularly posted on YouTube. The Brit Howard Webb, chief referee of the most important American football league, who will return to the Premier this year as chief referee, agreed.
“Maintain fair play”
“Publishing the dialogues between the field referee and the video referee is good for preserving that fair play, fair play and transparency,” says rugby referee Eki Fanlo. “At the Six Nations, transistors are distributed among fans who go into the stadium so they can listen to the referees’ conversations.”
Rugby was the European team sport where video referees and communication advertising between the different referees were first developed. “In rugby, VAR is TMO, Television Match Official,” explains Fanlo; “It was used in South Africa in 1995 and at the 2007 World Cup in France, the public began to listen to the discussions between the judges. It helped rugby gain traction and audiences, educated fans and showed that we referees were normal people who wanted what was best for the game. Currently, during rugby matches, the TMO’s images are projected onto the giant screens in the stadiums for the whole world to see. It helps keep the spirit of the game alive.”
“Football is the sport that is developing the least”
José Brasa was the Spanish women’s field hockey coach who won gold at the Barcelona Games. His innovative vision corresponds to the progressive nature of ice hockey, the team game that was the first to develop systematic physical preparation, video analysis and video refereeing. Watching football, Brasa sees a world frozen in time: “Football is the least developed sport. Its regulations have essentially survived for 100 years. Other sports have developed more in the context of a change in norms.”
“At the World Cup that was just played in Terrassa, the discussions between the VAR referees were completely public, for the spectators and for the entire stadium,” recalls the coach.
“VAR,” he says, “was used in ice hockey more than a decade ago. The conversations were initially only heard by the referee and VAR. Until the EHL – the champions of hockey – made the talks public and the whole stadium knew what was going on. The more transparency, the more security for everyone. Arbitrators are there to deliver justice, and so that the justice they deliver is understood by the public at large. It is important that the public always knows what is being cooked.”
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