CONTROVERSIES in a match between Simba and Namungo, then Simba against Polisi Tanzania and Y oung Africans versus Lipuli call for the urgent introduction of Video Assistant Refereeing (VAR).
VAR isn’t the first fact-checking technology to be introduced into football. A few others have existed before it, most notably the goal line technology.
But it is undeniable that VAR technology has brought the most controversy with it as football lovers grapple with having to sacrifice more passion and intensity of the game in exchange for pinpoint accuracy. After its Introduction at AFCON 2019, is Tanzanian ready for the technology?
After its official introduction into professional football with the Australian A-League in 2017, America’s Major League Soccer followed suit in the same year. The German Bundesliga and Italian Serie A were the first European football leagues to adopt the system before the English FA Cup delved into it.
VAR technology was eventually written into football laws in March 2018 after which a more improved system was introduced in the Men’s World Cup in Russia later that same year. And depending on who you ask, the reception has been largely positive.
Most football enthusiast believe VAR technology will help to end referee bribing and match-fixing if well applied. While it might be generally agreed that VAR technology is a welcome development in football, there is still the allegation of ‘ murder’ levelled against it because its application tends to kill the intensity and momentum of the game with frequent and sometimes very lengthy breaks.
So, maybe it’s okay for all that intensity and excitement to be traded in exchange for pinpoint accuracy. Maybe it isn’t. But these questions bother me as much as they do a lot of football lovers. But in actual fact football match victories should be truly earned not just handed out due to oversights which, thanks to VAR technology, have become avoidable.
It would take Africa another year after VAR technology was incorporated into football law to introduce the technology into its system. Its trial at the CAF Champions League, however, it is being estimated not to end in an embarrassing disaster.
Undeterred, CAF still went ahead to announce its application at the just-concluded Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON 2019) tournament in Egypt.
Citing the opening game between hosts, Egypt and Zimbabwe where the only goal of the match, an Egyptian goal, should have been disallowed for offside, most enthusiasts think it was a bad judgement not to employ VAR technology from the early stages of AFCON 2019.
It hardly seems fair that a system which seeks to ensure fairness and justice in the game of football was unfairly denied the countries which participated in the group stage of the AFCON 2019 competition. It is no longer news that African countries haven’t fared too well under the keen eyes of VAR on the global stage.
The Super Eagles of Nigeria for instance were denied a vital penalty in their 2018 World Cup game against Argentina when the ball struck an Argentine defender in the arm inside the Argentine danger area.
In the recently-concluded 2019 Women’s World Cup, the Cameroonian team was denied several times by VAR, a situation which forced the African side into an angry protest that lasted several minutes and led world football governing body FIFA to open investigations against them over what it termed ‘ disgraceful conduct’.
Some analysts believe it is purely coincidental that African countries seem to be more adversely affected by VAR decisions than anyone else.
After seeing controversies in the world class events like World Cup, African football enthusiasts were forced to believe that VAR was purposely designed to limit African teams because they have seen it work against European teams as well.
But unfortunately, because the referees are humans, they also have team preferences and may become picky about when and when not to apply VAR, said the analysts. But many others across the globe think the claim that VAR targets African countries is an outright falsehood.
Others argue that VAR technology tries as much as possible to eradicate and reduce human error and make everything fair. And just as Africans complain that the technology doesn’t benefit Africa, so also do other people who were denied by VAR complain that it is a disaster to them.
Definitely, Tanzanians, like other Africans are ready for VAR, as we have seen in the recent Premier League matches, Tanzania needs it more than other countries.
What we just need is sincerity in its application. The three recent matches in Dar es Salaam and the Wednesday league match between Azam and Tanzania Prisons tells it all that Tanzania football itself is ready.
The technology is there but we know it is quite expensive. Tanzania actually needs it the most because of the litany of shameful negative practices in the league games. But many football enthusiasts said the referees also need better orientation because they have the final call despite VAR replays.