While the use of video assistant referees (VARs) in professional football has become ubiquitous, it may come as a surprise to fans that there is no video review in the final round of the World Cup qualifiers in the CONCACAF region.
VAR uses video replay to help make clear and obvious errors or serious missed incidents by match officials. US national team head coach Greg Berhalter made clear his frustration with the absence of VAR in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers, which gave Qatar three automatic qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
“I think it’s an error by CONCACAF,” Barhalter said before the first match of qualifying for the USA. “I’m going to talk freely and say it because it’s part of the game. I think it’s great that they’ve implemented VAR in the Nations League and Gold Cup, and it’s disappointing that it’s not part of the qualification. That’s where the modern game is going. We’re in terms of quality and technology. With the rest of the world, we want to be right with our region.
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After rejecting a penalty kick to Mexico in the 1-1 home draw against Canada, manager Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino joined the chorus: “Qualifying for the World Cup without VAR is a matter of criticism.”
FIFA rules for the 2022 World Cup qualifiers (page 15) state: “FIFA and / or the Confederation may use a Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system when applicable.” So it seems like an option, but the language doesn’t make it clear which organization is responsible for making it happen.
Why is there no VAR of CONCACAF qualification?
According to CONCACAF, this highlights the fact that only three of the eight countries participating in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers have an established, certified VAR system in their respective countries: the United States, Canada and Mexico. And that’s because the top-tier pro leagues in those countries have taken on and invested in video reviews: Liga MX and Major League Soccer.
“The CONCACAF region FIFA World Cup qualifiers are FIFA matches subject to FIFA rules,” CONCACAF said in a statement on September 2, explaining the absence of VAR. “A key criterion for determining whether VAR can be used in this competition is that, at the currently certified stadium, the technology will be available for each participating federation’s match.
Whose responsibility? Should it be every country’s league or football federation? Concacaf? Or maybe FIFA? FIFA, the world governing body, did not respond when asked by Sporting News, but here is what happened in other regions of VAR in the World Cup qualifiers:
Europe (UEFA): The Executive Committee of the European Governing Body decided in July 2021 that all other qualifiers would use VAR once the competition started without it. UEFA organizes the implementation using VAR vans.
South America (CONMEBOL): The South American organization has decided to adopt VAR for qualification for more than a year before joining UEFA. The travel cost of the referee is estimated by FIFA, while CONMEBOL pays the bill for the technology.
Asia (AFC): The Asian Confederation has applied VAR for the final round of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers.
VAR in the CONCACAF competition
Concacaf appointed VAR for the first time in 2021, launching it into some of the high-profile competitions it organizes and oversees – the 2021 Gold Cup, the 2021 Nations League Final Four and the 2021 Champions League semi-finals and finals. These events were all held in the United States or Mexico, where VAR technology exists.
In March 2021, the organization also conducted VAR training for a new pool of 22 referees from the CONCACAF region in Costa Rica.
VAR has been in the professional position worldwide for several years and it was officially added to the 2018 game laws. This is a year after the Australian A-League and Major League Soccer (USA and Canada) have already officially adopted it. The English Premier League and UEFA Champions League join the VAR party in the 2019-20 season.
The first World Cup competitions using video review were the 2018 FIFA World Cup for men and the 2019 FIFA World Cup for women.