A future without refs? FIFA takes one step closer with ‘video assistant referees’ at 2018 World Cup

Rayvon Fouché
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. —Whether fans like it or not, FIFA is joining most other professional sports by embracing instant replay to review calls made on the field during the 2018 World Cup.

An expert and author on the intersection of technology and sports at Purdue University expects mixed reactions to the controversial move by soccer’s organizing body.

“This is the first World Cup where FIFA will use digital technology to confirm goals, as opposed to the naked eye of officiating,” said Rayvon Fouché, a professor of American studies and author of “Game Changer: The Technoscientific Revolution in Sports.”

“Some people think this is really wonderful, and other people feel it undermines the history and tradition of the game, and that bad calls are as much a part of the game as wonderful officiating.”

FIFA recently announced a crew of “video assistant referees” will support on-field officials from a centralized video operation room in Moscow, Russia, during all 64 World Cup matches, according to the federation’s website.

MLB, the NFL and the NBA over the past decade have increased their use of replay centers, where referees remotely review plays recorded from several different camera angles, and have eventually permitted the review process during playoff series or championship games.

FIFA’s move could foreshadow a future where on-field officials are removed in favor of replay centers or new kinds of “digital officiating,” Fouché said.  

“I don’t know how much people would really love the officials to disappear,” he said. “I think this is some of the tension around digital officiating: Part of the game is arguing about great calls and missed calls. It’s part of the narrative of the sport, and if you make it so robotic, in a sense, it loses some of its poetry.”

Fouché is available to speak about:

• Video assistant referees.

• Digital officiating.

• World Cup soccer ball design.

• Other topics related to technology and sports.

Writer: Joseph Paul, 765-494-9541, paul102@purdue.edu 

Source: Rayvon Fouché, 765-494-7161, rfouche@purdue.edu