VAR and goalline technology at the 2018 World Cup in Russia worked well
For the first time at a World Cup, in 2018, VAR (video assistant referee) technology was used. This followed the introduction of goalline technology in 2014, which proved an instant success. Under the VAR system, a referee is alerted by a team of assistants watching the game elsewhere when a decision needs to be reviewed. The referee will then watch the incident on a video screen and either uphold or revise his initial decision.
During the 2018 World Cup in Russia, 335 incidents were reviewed using VAR. Of those, 14 resulted in the referee changing his original decision. That contributed to referees getting 99.3% of decisions correct - up from 95% without VAR. There were 29 penalties awarded (22 of them scored, five more than in any previous World Cup) as the system enabled the refereeing team to spot and penalise fouls as players jostled for position in the penalty area and other infringements. Clear and obvious fouls including a penalty for handball in the final between France and Croatia were awarded having initially been missed by the referee. The use of goalline technology - now an established part of the game at the highest level - ensure that there was no debate around whether the ball had crossed the goalline in any matches.
While referees did make more correct decisions overall, there remains criticism over how the system is used and how decisions are measured. As the system relies on other humans advising the referee, most decisions taken using VAR retain some element of subjectivity. Therefore, the figure of 99.3% correct decisions is not necessarily an acceptable assessment - one person's clear handball may not be the same as another's. Some referees are more lenient than others. Even when VAR was used, some wrong decisions were still made and the system was not used when it should have been on other occasions.
By using the VAR system in Russia, referees were able to make more correct decisions than had it not been available. Obvious errors - or clear fouls that were missed - were often overturned. The system led to more penalties as fouls in the box were policed more rigorously.
Even with VAR in place, referees and their team of assistants did not catch every single foul, with incidents of players being hauled to the ground in the penalty area being notable examples.