The Egyptian Football Association’s (EFA) board, headed by Hany Abu Reda, surprisingly approved the implementation of the video assistant referee (VAR) in the Egyptian Premier League.
The EFA’s decision came to end the referees’ ongoing crisis between Egyptian clubs which causes rage among fans, especially after the fans’ return to attend the games in stadiums.
Head of the EFA’s referee committee, Essam Abdel Fattah, told Daily News Egypt that the implementation of the VAR in Egypt will be ‘risky,’ and may cause intricate problems.
Despite the fact that the VAR can settle many controversial situations, it was not welcomed by club’s officials or coaches, as many of them said it ruins football.
Meanwhile, an official source in the EFA, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that many Egyptian stadiums are not suitable for installing such a large number of cameras used in the VAR. He added that the EFA should review the status of all stadiums before applying the new technique.
He pointed out that only Cairo’s International Stadium, Borg Al-Arab, Air Defence, and Al-Max stadiums can serve this purpose, while the rest of the stadiums are not suitable.
The VAR has been in operation since early 2017 in many countries, and has been applied in a number of European and international tournaments.
After being used in the World Cup, different football associations started working on introducing the VAR to their competitions to assure fair decisions from referees, mainly penalty claims.
Difficulty in applying the VAR
Despite of the EFA’s unanimous approval of the VAR to be applied in Egypt, there are some reasons which may make it difficult to come to pass.
The process begins with the assistant video assistant referee (AVAR) reviewing the play in question on a bank of monitors in the video operation room (VOR) with the assistance of the replay operator. The AVAR can be a current or former referee appointed to assist the VAR in the video operation room. This can be triggered by the referee requesting the review or by the VAR conducting a ‘check’ to see if a review should be recommended to the referee. If the VAR finds nothing during the check, then communication with the referee is unnecessary, which is called a ‘silent check.’ If the VAR believes there has been a potential clear error, the referee will be contacted with that decision.
The referee can then either (a) change the call on the advice of the VAR or (b) conduct an on-field review (OFR) by going to a designated spot on the sidelines, called the referee review area, to review the video with the help of the review assistant or (c) decide that he/she is confident in the original call and not conduct an OFR. The referee is allowed to stop the play function in order to reverse a call or conduct an OFR, but is not supposed to do so when either team is engaged in a good attacking possibility.
The EFA shall choose the qualified AVARs, as was the case at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, when FIFA selected 13 referees and announced their names before the tournament. Those referees underwent extensive training courses, which helped them to carry out their difficult task.
The VAR requires a fully equipped room within each stadium allocated for the Premier League games, which are not prepared yet to provide such equipment.
The preparation of VAR rooms requires a lot of money, as it needs giant screens, modern communication equipment, and a special cabin for the head referee.
Another problem is the culture of Egyptian players, coaches and fans who used to oppose the referees’ decisions, may hinder the referee’s access to his own cabin for on-field review.
This process may take a long time, even though FIFA said it should be made in less than 30 seconds, so that there is no opportunity to waste time. This is arduous to occur in the Egyptian Premier League.UAE has best VAR experience in Arab region
Abu Reda has already agreed with the Presentation Advertising Agency, official sponsor of the EFA, to bear the expenses of implementing the VAR in the Egyptian Premier League, which is expected to cost $10,000 per match (about EGP 180,000).
The EFA addressed the companies specialised in providing this technology to be applied in Egypt, and also sent a letter to the FIFA to obtain its approval to apply the VAR this season. The move came upon several clubs’ demands to find a solution to controversial refereeing decisions, especially in the last two league games: Al Ahly vs. El Entag El Harby, and Pyramids vs. El Gouna.
Mohammad Fadlallah, a legal expert and sports law professor at the American University in the United Arab Emirates, spoke to Daily News Egypt about the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) experience in applying VAR locally. He pointed out that the UAE agreed to apply VAR gradually to avoid making any mistakes.
Fadlallah said that the initial cost of implementing VAR will be 20,000-22,000 Dhs ($5,500-6,000) per match.
“The referees received lectures on the VAR, while the practical training will be conducted later under a planned training programme,” he added, noting that it will be initially applied in a few games.
The role of the VAR is meant to be simple. It is supposed to advise the on-field referee, either through his earpiece or with a video screen, if a ‘clear error’ has been made in four crucial areas which are goals, penalties, red cards, and mistaken identity.
With regards to goals, a close offside decision is the most common reason for the VAR being consulted after a goal has been scored, but shirt-pulling and other infringements can cause goals to be chalked off.
The concept of ‘clear and obvious’ errors does not apply to offsides. A player is either onside or offside, just like you cannot be a little bit pregnant. So even if a player is offside by a matter of inches, the goal will be ruled out.
When it comes to penalties, the most subjective and arguably problematic area, they can be awarded or rescinded using the VAR if there has been a ‘clear and obvious error’ in the original decision.
As for straight red cards, violent conduct and dangerous tackles can be penalised using the VAR, whereas second-yellow cards cannot.
Concerning mistaken identity, if the referee sends off the wrong player, that injustice can be repaired.
There are guidelines the referee and the VAR should follow when conducting a video review. For example, slow motion should only be used for ‘point of contact’ offences, such as physical offences, and handballs. Regular speed should be used to determine the intensity of an offence, and whether a handball was deliberate.