World Football Summit

Collina on VAR: “In five years we’ve gone from zero to having it in all main competitions”

Legendary referee Pierluigi Collina gave his views on the Video Assistant Referee system at the final day of the World Football Summit online conference.

Collina on VAR: “In five years we’ve gone from zero to having it in all main competitions”

Pierluigi Collina, former top flight referee and now the chairman of FIFA’s referee committee, spoke to ESPN’s Gabriele Marcotti at the World Football Summit, to give a referee’s perspective on the Video Assistant Referee, which has been the subject of fairly intense criticism from many sectors of the game, including players, coaches and fans, since it was introduced in 2016.

Collina made clear the need for a VAR system, saying that right now with the coverage and replays of the action in the stadium people can see absolutely everything going on, while it’s normal that “a referee with only two eyes, running on the field, even if he’s 100% fit and knows everything about the match, it’s possible they will make a mistake.”

The VAR is a safety net for the referee

VAR is there to avoid that wrong decision having an impact on the clubs involved and the players, but also, Collina stressed to protect the referee, saying the VAR is like a “parachute” to save the referee when he makes a mistake, because that mistake could seriously damage their careers, while if the VAR corrects the mistake, in general, “nobody cares if the referee initially got it wrong, provided the final decision is correct”. Collina did say that as the Chairman of FIFA’s referee committee he would want to know why the referee got the initial decision wrong, but that aside, “people do not care”.

For Collina it’s vital to take into account that this generation of referees are not VAR natives, they are having to adapt to it, noting that the first discussions he had about the introduction of technology took place in 2014, and here we are just five years later and it’s “in all main competitions, the World Cup 2018, the Women’s World Cup 2019.”

In his opinion current referees need to change their mentality somewhat to understand how to use the VAR and learn to adapt to it. “It’s a matter of mentality, and it’s a process that is moving forward but still needs to be refined.”

VAR: humans still make mistakes

The other thing that is important to be borne in mind is that the technology offered by VAR ensures that every single piece of play will be reviewed, however it is still humans doing the reviewing and they can make mistakes. “Human beings are not perfect and making mistakes is part of being human,” said Collina.

Asked by Marcotti about the possibility of specialised VAR referees Collina said he thought that was something that could well be introduced, explaining that the specialisation has already happened to a certain degree with assistant referees. “I was an assistant referee twice and it was a nightmare, it wasn’t what I was specialised at, so I think in the future we might well haves specialised video match officials”.

Marcotti was also keen to know if a challenge system had been considered, similar to tennis or cricket, where each side has a certain number of opportunities to review a decision. Collina explained that FIFA had looked at the experience in all the different sports using a review system and come to the conclusion that a constant monitoring system would work best for football.

The problem of offside compared to goal-line technology

Why hadn’t VAR attempted to use a more objective system for offside, similar to goal-line technology which very quickly produces an objective graphic as to whether the ball has crossed the line or not, asked Marcotti.

Collina explained that the problem is one of the scope of the problem, because goal-line technology has a reduced area in which to operate, while offsides can occur in a huge space of the pitch, and “it’s far more complicated”. He said however, that FIFA have a technology innovation department, who are working constantly on solutions to this type of situation to give more objective answers.