ZURICH — FIFA’s rule-making panel approved adding video review to the laws of soccer on Saturday, clearing the way for its use at the World Cup in June.
The panel, known as IFAB, voted unanimously to begin updating the game’s written rules to include video assistant referees (VAR) and let competition organizers ask to adopt it.
The decision “represents a new era for football with video assistance for referees helping to increase integrity and fairness in the game,” the panel said in a statement.
FIFA must take a further decision on using VAR at the World Cup in Russia, which kicks off June 14.
Earlier today, FIFA President Gianni Infantino confirmed that VAR will be used at the 2018 World Cup. pic.twitter.com/VBh2db8m9w— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) March 3, 2018
That will likely come on March 16 when the FIFA Council meets in Bogota, Colombia.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino has long said World Cup referees must get high-tech help to review key decisions at the 64-game tournament.
Still, he also acknowledged Saturday the VAR system “is not perfect” after mixed results in 18 months of trials worldwide.
Video review can overturn “clear and obvious errors” and “serious missed incidents” by match officials involving goals, penalty awards, red cards, and mistaken identity.
“VAR at the World Cup will certainly help to have a fairer World Cup,” Infantino said at a news conference. “If there is a big mistake, it will be corrected.”
Infantino said FIFA must have “the ambition to get close to perfection” even if some coaches, players and fans were not yet convinced by video review.
The decision Saturday is among the most fundamental changes to soccer since the laws were codified 155 years ago.
The VAR system has often created confusion in the first full season of live trials which now include more than 1,000 games worldwide. Top-tier competitions which opted to use it include Germany’s Bundesliga and Italy’s Serie A.
Several games at the 2017 Confederations Cup, FIFA’s World Cup warm-up tournament in Russia, also left many in the stadium unsure what match officials were doing.
Communication was unclear during reviews lasting minutes instead of a handful of seconds, which was the target suggested in 2016 when the protocol for using VAR was shaped and trials began.
“We have to speed up reviews,” the CEO of England’s Football Association, Martin Glenn, acknowledged after taking part in the decision. “Communications to the crowd has to be better. People in the crowd aren’t sure what is happening.”
UEFA has already ruled out using VAR in the Champions League next season, and the English Premier League is also waiting to see if the system can prove itself essential.
Still, the International Football Association Board’s approval was expected Saturday because FIFA controls four of the eight votes. The four British soccer associations, which created IFAB in 1886, have one vote each, and six are needed to approve an idea.
FIFA’s historical reluctance to embrace technological help for referees changed at the 2010 World Cup, after an England goal was not given despite Frank Lampard’s shot clearly crossing the German goal-line. Germany went on to win the Round of 16 game 4-1.
At the 2014 World Cup, FIFA deployed goal-line technology. Referees were alerted with a simple yes-no signal to their watches after multiple camera angles judged if the ball crossed the line. Goal-line systems are now used at UEFA’s European Championship and in the Premier League.
The potential use of video review was first announced on the eve of the World Cup tournament in Brazil.
FIFA’s then-president Sepp Blatter surprised IFAB officials in Sao Paulo by suggesting coaches could call on video replays to challenge some refereeing decisions.
The landmark decision leaves much yet to be finalized, such as wording for the amended rules and an exact protocol for operating the system including communicating to fans in the stadium.
FIFA must also choose technology providers with more than 10 involved in trials and workshops at Zurich.
In Russia, it is expected FIFA will use a central command center for VAR teams working away from stadiums to communicate with referees.
Also Saturday, the IFAB panel used evidence from two years of trials to approve teams using a fourth substitute during the 30 minutes of extra time in knockout games. Teams can even use all four replacements in the extra periods if no changes were made in regulation time.