Pro soccer will test in-game video replays

Soccer’s authorities have announced plans to test in-game video replays in an attempt to end blown calls.

The sport’s international governing body FIFA and The International Football Association Board (IFAB), which oversees soccer’s rules, revealed the plans Thursday.

Starting next year, experiments with so-called video assistant referees (VARs) will run in a number of competitions, including Major League Soccer and Germany’s Bundesliga. Subject to initial tests, the technology will also be used at December’s FIFA Club World Cup tournament in Japan.

Working from a video booth, VARs will be used in specific game situations, such as helping the referee determine whether a player infringement means a goal should not be awarded. VARs will also ensure that the correct decisions are made around penalty kicks, incidents where players and sent off and cases of mistaken identity when the wrong player is sanctioned by the referee.

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Reviews can be initiated by the referee or the VARs, but the final decision on an incident rests with the referee. Unlike sports such as American football and baseball, soccer coaches will not be able to call for a video replay.

“Major League Soccer has been a strong proponent of using technology in soccer where it enhances the game, and we are pleased to be among the first leagues in the world to participate in the Video Assistant Referee project,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber, in a statement released Thursday. “We believe the time has come for a mechanism that helps referees avoid clearly incorrect decisions that change the game. We look forward to working with The IFAB and FIFA to test video assistance for our referees.”

FIFA chief Infantino, who replaced the ousted Sepp Blatter earlier this year, has said that video technology could be used at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

The topic of video replays in soccer has been debated for years, with the sport juggling the demands for accurate refereeing with fears that replays could disrupt games. “We have to see what kind of impact video technology will have on the flow of the game which we can never put in danger,” explained FIFA president Gianni Infantino at the IFAB annual meeting earlier this year.

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This is not the sport’s first foray into high-tech. Goal line technology made its World Cup debut in Brazil two years ago with the GoalControl-4D system.

The technology will also feature in the Copa America Centenario tournament, which kicks off Friday when the U.S. faces Colombia in Santa Clara, Calif. Hawk-Eye goal line technology,  used in the 2015 Women’s World Cup and the English Premier League, has been selected for the Copa America. The technology uses seven cameras per goal and control software to track the ball within the goal area. Using vision-processing techniques and software, the system indicates whether or not a goal has been scored within one second via a vibration and visual signal on each match official's watch, according to the manufacturer.

Hawk-Eye will also be used at the European Championship in France, which starts on June 10.

The call of “goal” or “no goal” can be a tough one for referees, particularly when the goalmouth is crowded with players or when a shot has cannoned off another part of the goal, as famously happened in the 2010 South Africa World Cup. With England trailing Germany 2-1 in a second round game, a blistering shot from England midfielder Frank Lampard ricocheted off the crossbar and landed over the goal line before bouncing out of the goal. The referee, confused by the fierce speed of the ball and its trajectory when it bounced back into play, did not award the goal. England went on to lose the game 4-1.

Ironically, Germany was itself the victim of a controversial call in the 1966 World Cup final against England when Geoff Hurst's shot hit the underside of the crossbar and rebounded off the goal line. In that instance, however, the goal was awarded to England, although the incident remains hotly debated to this day.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers