Rugby Union paved the way for Football's new VAR

Rugby Union's TMO screen at Twickenham during the RWC 2015
Rugby Union's TMO screen at Twickenham during the RWC 2015

Even though it is the most followed sport on earth, Football has taken a protracted approach in embracing video technology from Rugby Union to improve the game.

Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system, which reviews decisions made by the head referee with the use of video footage, was implemented in August 2016 with a United Soccer League game between two Major League Soccer reserve sides. The International Football Association Board (IFAB), the body that regulates the laws of the sport, authorized the use of video referees in trials during its June 2016 meeting.

During the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup, a "pitch-side monitor" was introduced granting referees access to review footage from the field.

Although the Football fraternity has widely endorsed VAR, it also has received its share of criticism such as - the amount of time reaching a decision takes, causing a long pause in matches and stifling celebrations for players and fans alike.

An array of video referral and appeal system have been materialized into a considerable number of sports such as Rugby Union, Cricket, Tennis and the NFL throughout the years. So shouldn't Football follow the suit?


The part which Television Match Official (TMO) plays in the game, is a continuous battle between perfection and distortion, as administrator Edward Griffiths put it, and it carries on to be a conflicting aspect of the sport. The TMO's authority now broadens not just to resolution over whether a try has been scored or not, but also to any probable infringements in the run-up to a score, and to unnoticed foul play.

Although the system (TMO) has its benefits, it also has an impact on the games becoming stop-start affairs in a sport that already struggles with scrum sequences sometimes taking an age.

Not just that, but the TMO and its ever-growing authority also might lead one to think that the referees are being undermined.

During the 2015 Rugby World Cup, several times there seemed like an incessant wait for a TMO's decision that stunted the natural flow of the game. A total of 132 decisions were sent upstairs which resulted into the games going on longer than its expected time-frame.

Contrary to criticism, Ed Morrison, Northern Hemisphere’s first ever rugby referee, admits that "these are all things that happen when you start a new process like this. Any system you bring in is complex, and you're going to have some humps and bumps along the way” to support that today “more big decisions are made correctly now than ever in the history of the game. There are the odd occasions, but they are very odd.”

Regardless of all the criticism, TMO has become a key part of the game. Seldom is the validity of a try is questioned post-TMO and it has led to more foul play being penalised mid-game instead of postmatch citings.

The slow-motion replays presented to the referees quite often misconstrue high-paced, mistimed tackles and cause frequent resentment amidst the fans. The fact that referees can award a try, but then catch a glimpse of a replay on one of the stadium's screens and call for a review is also flawed. The TMO is here to stay.