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Soccer lawmakers approve video assistant referee for World Cup

Referee Paul Tierney, left, waits for a VAR decision during the English FA Cup 5th round replay football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Rochdale at Wembley Stadium in London, February 28, 2018. (AFP photo)

The International Football Association Board (IFAB), responsible for determining the rules of football, has approved using video assistant technology (VAR) in the upcoming World Cup games in Russia.

IFAB said in a statement on Saturday that using VAR by referees in football matches would help boost “integrity and fairness” in the game.

The body, comprised of four representatives from FIFA, the global football watchdog, and four British founding soccer associations, voted unanimously to allow updating football’s written rules to include VAR.

A final decision on actually using VAR in World Cup games, due to begin in June, would come in a FIFA Council meeting in Colombia in the next two weeks.

Approving VAR’s use in football is one of the most fundamental changes in the game since laws were formulated more than 150 years ago. Proponents of the technology, among them FIFA’s former and current heads, argue it could bring to almost zero errors by referees that affect decisions on goals, penalty awards, red cards, and mistaken identity. Opponents say VAR ruins the spontaneous nature of referee decisions and halts the tempo of the game as some experiences have shown that reviewing VAR would sometimes take several minutes, instead of a handful of seconds.

The photo, taken on January 9, 2018, shows French referee Amaury Delerue (front) in a presentation of video assistant referee (VAR) before the French League Cup football match between Nice and Monaco at Allianz Riviera Stadium in Nice, southern France. (AFP photo)

VAR is currently used in top tier football in Germany and Italy, where some controversial incidents have happened involving the technology. The Football Association is using video checks in the FA Cup and says it would follow suit in the Premier League if the system can prove itself essential.

The use of VAR in the upcoming World Cup, which is almost certain, comes against the backdrop of FIFA's historical reluctance to embrace technological help for referees, a policy which persisted until a few years ago. FIFA accepted to deploy goal-line technology in the previous World Cup in Brazil. The system uses multiple camera angles to decide if the ball has crossed the line and then alerts the referee with a simple yes-no signal to his or her watches.

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