VAR and Western Hypocrisy, Again
Japan celebrate after defeating Spain.
For the first time in the history of the men’s football world cup, three teams from the Asian confederation have progressed past the first round. It isn’t a fact that has gone down well with the western press and pundit gang. After besting four-time world champs Germany in their opening match of the tournament, Japan ended the group stage with a tactically brilliant and executionally flawless performance against a Spain side that scored seven goals in their first match of the tournament and were among the favourites to go all the way in Qatar.
If Arab unity is visible on the streets of Qatar, Europe seemed to come together on the night. The second goal, turned in by Ao Tanaka from a ball put in by Kaoru Mitoma, one that effectively knocked Germany out of the tournament, seemed to have the entire lineup for former European footballers, pundits and Twitter warriors on the same page. From their point of view, the ball went out and Spain should’ve had a goal kick. South African referee Victor Gomes, assisted by VAR Fernando Guerrero clearly thought otherwise. The entire ball had not crossed the line, is what they saw; the goal stood and both Spain and Japan qualified.
Many of the same pundits who normally favour the use of technology, including Gary Neville, suddenly want the entire system to be binned. FIFA took pains to explain the ‘curvature’ of a football, essentially saying that even if the part in contact with the grass was outside the line, not all of the ball had crossed over when Mitoma chipped it back in. That, quite simply, is the rule. It's No 9 of the 17 laws of football. Law 9: 'The ball in and out of play'...
"The ball is out of play when: It has wholly crossed the goal line or touch line, whether on the ground or in the air."
It was, again, a blatant display of Western hypocrisy; something the rest of us have become quite accustomed to over the course of the past couple of weeks, if not the rest of our lives.
In the post match press conference English-speaking reports pressed Japan head coach Hajime Moriyasu and player of the match Tanaka, for their thoughts. Since FIFA had brought in all this technology, and the refs had taken the call, who were they to dispute it, the Japanese implied. Spain coach Luis Enrique himself was unequivocal. Though he was visibly pissed-off with the way his side had collapsed in the second half to a Japan who were intelligent, aggressive, technically solid and defensively almost perfect, Enrique said he had complete faith in the technology and the systems FIFA had in place.
VAR and the new semi-automated offside technology have been the subject of much debate this World Cup. Debates that have raged since the first round when two Argentina goals were canceled out by the new system and Saudi Arabia went on to a famous victory. Had Argentina gone out of the tournament as well, perhaps those would also have been exhumed by the rank and file of the western media. In fact, FIFA has been taking pains to talk about the new tech from the start of the World Cup. After Portugal’s first game, when Twitter was convinced Ronaldo got some skin on the Bruno Fernandes strike that eventually found the back of the net, a statement read, “In the match between Portugal and Uruguay, using the Connected Ball Technology housed in adidas's Al Rihla Official Match Ball, we are able to definitively show no contact on the ball from Cristiano Ronaldo for the opening goal in the game. No external force on the ball could be measured as shown by the lack of 'heartbeat' in our measurements. The 500Hz IMU sensor inside the ball allows us to be highly accurate in our analysis."
The match ball developed by adidas in close collaboration with FIFA and KINEXON includes technology meant to provide real-time data to match officials. Apart from other info, the sensor captures every touch and is connected to associated technologies including the in-stadia camera system that allow the video assistant referees to make informed decisions. It also provides precise, correlatable positional information from the ball, all of which is at the disposal of match officials and why it took some time for them to reach a decision. It is also tied in with the semi-auto offside system that we are seeing for the first time at a world cup. It has 12 tracking cameras around the stadium apart from a sensor inside the Al Rihla ball, giving the VAR an automatic offside and eliminating the need for protracted replays. Even the normally balanced Gary Neville, commentated on British network ITV, hinted at conspiracy. “But from that very first offside goal, Ecuador vs Qatar in game one, I’ve struggled with it a little bit that we’ve (the TV commentators/viewers) not been given the correct angles,” he said. “It just doesn’t feel right. In the Premier League we see all the VAR cameras, here we don’t.”
I, for one, have a larger issue with the use of technology, particularly expensive, high end technology that can never be implemented at the grassroots, in a sport as widely played as football. Essentially, it creates a difference in how the game is played and judged. So, the elite tier plays one sport and everyone else plays another. That detracts from the universal joy of football. And if these powerful men can take us back to a version of football where the human element, for good or bad, is paramount, no one would be happier. And we would all have a lot more to talk about!
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