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Football and digital accuracy in refereeing
Soccer Football - World Cup - Final - France v Croatia - Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, Russia - July 15, 2018 Croatia's Ivan Perisic handles the ball in the area leading to a VAR review and subsequently a penalty REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Football and digital accuracy in refereeing

Mostafa Kamal Majumder

The FIFA World Cup final in Moscow termed as the best so far has once again marked the victory of the game of football all over. FIFA officials have praised Russia for making the event successful and memorable. The finalists France and Croatia probably deserve extraordinary credit in that both the winners and the losers celebrated it in full vigour after return to their respective home countries. Although most people accepted the superiority of the French team and their win, some have made a reference to the penalty decision against the Croats as controversial and that without the penalty goal the winners might not have succeeded to establish their dominance on the game that day. This gave the French a 2-1 lead. The first goal for France had earlier come from a same-side header by Croat Maria Mandzukic in the face of a terrible situation at their goal-mouth after Antoine Griezmann, the man of the match took a free kick from a controversial foul. Needless to say, Mario Mandzukic headed the ball to clear it not to score a goal against his own team. It was a desperate attempt to prevent the scoring of a goal by opponent France players and a misdirected header was the outcome bemusing not only the spectators at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow but also live viewers of the match on tv channels and the Internet worldwide.
One can compare the Mario Mandzukic goal with the one conceded by French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris whose negligent and faulty dribbling of the ball near his goal post in front an advancing Croat Mandžukić created a gifted opportunity for the latter to score from a close range. French goalie Hugo Lloris failed to dribble around Mandžukić, who poked the loose ball into the unguarded net with his right leg. The reported controversy then remains focused only on the penalty given against Ivan Perisic for the handball inside the penalty area. But a close look at the game would show that Argentine referee Néstor Pitana had given the penalty decision against his will only after becoming sanguine by witnessing its replay from the video assistant referee on a tv screen set up beside the sideline. The referee replayed the event twice before signalling for the penalty.
Had FIFA not decided to opt for the video assistant referee, for the first time in this tournament, to decide on apparently unclear and controversial situations in the game, probably this penalty decision would not have been given. Because if the referee had been more confident, he would not have waited to see the replay. And there is no point in blaming the referee because an accepted rule can go for or against either side. If it’s bad for one side, it’s so for the other side too and vice versa.
The greater controversy should, in fact, be on the decision to opt for the digital accuracy of refereeing rather than accepting human errors and frailties in overseeing the game. Had the decision for refereeing accuracy been reposed in the video assistant referee in the past, Argentine great Diego Maradona would not have scored his first goal against England in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final in Mexico. Replay showed a goal from an apparent header had actually come from the football legend’s hand which he himself later described as the ‘Hand of God’. Maradona’s team won the cup that year defeating West Germany in the final by 3-2 as the deserving side.
It’s relevant to refer to an observation made by the former FIFA president Joe Havanange that they would remain contented with human errors and frailties in refereeing rather than relying on digital accuracy, as was practised in cricket umpiring where there has been a third umpire to decide in cases of appeals by participating teams. What was seen in the Moscow FIFA World Cup Final is that the referee remained in charge to decide on the outcome of the replay from the video assistant referee of the event rather than the announcement of the decision from outside as in the case of cricket? Those who witnessed the match on the mini-screen would support the referee in his penalty decision because the replay suggested this in front of their eyes. An interesting thing about watching sports events from the mini screen is that one can see the greater details that are zoomed in by photographers, than those who see with their bare eyes in the stadium from quite a distance. (The writer is the editor of GreenWatch Dhaka)