FIFA has finally and fully approved video review to help referees at the World Cup.
Also Friday, the world soccer body lifted its three-decade ban on Iraq’s hosting of international events. The cities of Irbil, Basra and Karbala were given the go-ahead to stage official matches.
The last step toward giving match officials high-tech help in Russia was agreed to by FIFA’s ruling council, chaired by President Gianni Infantino.
“We are extremely happy with that decision,” Infantino said at a news conference in Bogota, adding it would lead to “a more transparent and fairer sport. We need to live with our times.”
FIFA will now look to sign a World Cup sponsor for video assistant referees (VAR) at the June 14-July 15 tournament.
The landmark decision on using technology came two weeks after FIFA’s rule-making panel, known as IFAB, voted to write VAR into the laws of soccer.
That move still left competition organizers to opt to use video review in their games, and FIFA’s ruling committee had to sign off on the World Cup decision.
FIFA council member Reinhard Grindel wrote on his Twitter account that clear communication would be important to make the system a success — and was promised on Friday by Infantino.
Referees can call on VAR to review and overturn “clear and obvious errors” plus “serious missed incidents” involving goals, penalty awards, red cards and mistaken identity.
In 18 months of trials worldwide, reviews have often been slower than promised and communication has been unclear in the stadium.
“Obviously it is not perfect and we are not going to reach 100 percent perfection,” Infantino acknowledged. “What we definitely want to do is help.”
Controversy has been stirred even by the most experienced VAR officials who have handled many more games than most referees who will work at the 64-game World Cup.
Thirty-six referees, plus their teams of assistants, are being trained by FIFA for World Cup duty and many come from countries that do not use video review in domestic games.
The three Iraqi cities that got the go-ahead Friday to host official matches had been allowed to organize friendlies in the last year, provided the security situation was “stable.”
Iraq will host Qatar and Syria for a friendly tournament starting on March 21 in Basra.
“FIFA has given the green light for the resumption, but the organizers of the championship must take the final decision,” added Infantino.
‘No’ to Baghdad, for now
FIFA added that it could not “yet” agree to a request from the Iraqi authorities to organize matches in Baghdad, but Infantino promised that the city’s application would continue to be studied.
Iraq has not played full internationals on home turf since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
The ban, covering all but domestic matches, stayed in place after the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.
It was briefly lifted in 2012, but a power outage during an Iraq-Jordan match in Irbil led FIFA to promptly reinstate it.
— FIFA reported a $192 million loss in its published accounts for 2017, after another year of stalled sponsor sales. But that was less than half of the $369 million deficit in 2016.
FIFA has backloaded more than $2 billion worth of broadcasting deals into the 2018 accounts and expects to exceed its revenue target of $5.6 billion and show a profit for the 2015-18 financial cycle.
— The soccer body agreed to publish the voting choices of member federations in the 2026 World Cup bidding contest on June 13 in Moscow.
A North American bid combining the United States, Canada and Mexico is competing with Morocco for the right to host the first 48-team tournament in eight years’ time. Up to 207 FIFA members will vote, with the four bidding nations excluded.
— Infantino also answered with a firm “no” when asked whether Russia’s current political tensions with Britain could affect its hosting of the World Cup.
— FIFA failed to make progress on revamping national team competitions for women and youth squads. Discussions had begun on creating a global women’s league, and merging Under-17 and Under-20 World Cups staged every two years into single, annual Under-18 competitions.
Some information for this report came from AFP.