The jury may still be out on FIFA’s decision to introduce the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system for the first time in the 2018 World Cup that starts in two days in Russia, but a study by the University of Leuven, Belgium published Monday has found that referees tend to penalise fouls more severely when watched in slow motion compared to real time.
FIFA announced VAR in March despite polarising opinions on the issue, which is an added facility for the referee on the pitch — similar to the third umpire in cricket. A team of officials will watch replays and help referees make or correct a decision when a “clear and obvious” error is spotted.
The study was published in the open access journal of the Psychonomic Society, “Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications” and found that while decisions on off-sides were more accurate in a VAR setup, slow-motion video clips used for VAR are associated with increased odds of choosing a higher category on the decision scale (i.e. no card, yellow card, or red card).
The study found: “In case of high-impact tackle incidents, there is a clear impact of slow motion, altering the judgment of the referees towards more severe disciplinary sanctions for the offending players… Viewing a situation in slow motion, compared with regular speed, increased the perceived intent of a violent action.”
For the study, Dr Jochim Spitz of the Department of Movement Sciences, Laboratory of Perception and Performance, Movement Control and Neuroplasticity Research Group, University of Leuven (KU Leuven), Leuven, Belgium and his team examined the response of 88 elite football referees to video clips of a foul warranting a yellow card.
The researchers also found no significant difference in the accuracy of a referee’s decision about whether a foul had occurred or not – slow-motion videos were found to be 63 per cent accurate compared to real-time decisions 61 per cent accurate. In other words, while the accuracy of referees was not significantly different in slow motion compared to real time, a foul that may have received a yellow card in real time is more likely to invite a red card when viewed in slow motion.
VAR comprises four match officials in a control room where they will have access to 33 different camera angles and will be used in the World Cup for goals (completed and missed), red cards if a wrong player is shown a card and penalties missed. It is the call of the referee on the pitch whether he wants to go for VAR or not. But once he has done so, the decision of the VAR is final.
Dr Spitz, the corresponding author of the study, said: “Our results suggest that slow motion can increase the severity of a judgment of intention, making the difference between perceiving an action as careless (no card), reckless (yellow card) or with excessive force (red card). The finding that referees were more likely to make more severe decisions following slow-motion replays, is an important consideration for developing guidelines for the implementation of VAR in football leagues worldwide.”
In the article, researchers concluded: “For certain types of situations and decisions, slow-motion video can be a helpful tool and be of value to increase decisional accuracy. By slowing down an image, it might become clear who initiated a foul, whether there actually was contact and whether a foul occurred either inside or outside the penalty area. However, judging human behaviour and human emotion, such as intentionality, is quite another story. Based on our results we conclude that slow motion has an impact and can make the difference between perceiving an action as careless (no card), reckless (yellow card), or with excessive force (red card). Therefore, caution is warranted before adopting video technology and clear guidelines should be defined”.