Video Assistant Referee introduced in Brazil in bizarre circumstances

The CBF, Brazilian football’s governing body, has taken the decision to implement Video Assistant Referee technology in the Campeonato Brasileiro after a controversial incident in which Corinthians striker Jô used his arm to score the winning goal in Sunday’s game against Vasco Da Gama. Bizarrely, the CBF have opted not to test the technology in any top-flight games, instead decreeing that it will be implemented immediately, starting with next weekend’s league matches.

On Monday morning, in light of the incident in which Jô put the ball in the net with his right arm, the Vasco president Eurico Miranda went directly to the office of the president of the CBF, Marco Polo Del Nero, and chief of the refereeing committee, Colonel Marcos Marinho, to complain. After the meeting Del Nero ordered Marinho to implement the technology forthwith in order to avoid further errors. It was initially intended to be introduced only in 2019 after further testing.

The hasty decision has been greeted with surprise and derision by Brazilians, who see it as another shining example of the incompetence that governs the beautiful game in this country.

That view is hard to argue with. VAR has only been tested in two official games in Brazil; the first and second legs of the Pernambucano State Championship final between Sport Recife and Salgueiro. In the first of those games, as I highlighted here, it took the officials six minutes to come to a conclusion over a 93rd minute penalty. Any such teething problems in a game of any consequence in the national championship would have widespread repercussions.

Video Assistant Referee technology has already been tested at the Confederations Cup, the Club World Championship and in international friendlies, and has been introduced to the Italian and German leagues, with varying degrees of success. (Image: DFL)

Two hours after the decision to implement VAR was announced, the CBF made a further statement saying that the technology will not be used in every game as some stadiums in the top-flight do not have the necessary infrastructure to accommodate the extra officials. It is truly ridiculous to introduce video referees at a point in time when not all matches will be treated equally and could clearly have some disastrous effects.

Colonel Marinho, when questioned by a Brazilian television reporter, was also unclear about the logistics of VAR. He could not, for example, say whether the screen would be placed at the side of the pitch, as it was for the Sport versus Salgueiro match, or whether there would be a team in a van outside the stadium, as is the case in Italy. He told the reporter that the CBF would carry out “further studies” to determine the best location. They had better get cracking.

The video officials will be allowed to officiate over the exact same matters as they were during this year’s Confederations Cup in Russia, where technology was used to (sometimes unsatisfactorily) resolve disputes over whether goals should stand, penalties, red cards and cases of mistaken identity.

It also seems odd not to wait at least a little longer as CBF officials and some of Brazil’s top referees are currently attending a course run by Conmebol, South American football’s governing body, designed to introduce them to the technology and lay the ground work for its implementation in future seasons.

The handball incident which triggered this decision has also been the cause of much consternation and soul-searching in the Brazilian press and on social media. Jô has been widely accused of hypocrisy, as he had called for more fair play in football earlier in the year after he benefitted from the candidness of a rival, Rodrigo Caio, who convinced the referee to rescind a yellow card he had mistakenly given to the ex-Manchester City forward.

Jô claimed that in the heat of the moment he was not sure which part of the body he had scored with and would have told the referee had he been certain it was an illegitimate goal.

In a tweet, journalist Rodrigo Mattos said; “1) Jô asks for more honesty in football, 2) he clearly scores a goal with his hand, 3) he says he doesn’t know if it hit his hand or not. Jô is a portrait of Brazil.”

Others piped up in a similar vein, with Estado de São Paulo columnist Antero Greco tweeting that, “Jô is not the face of Corinthians. That is basic provocation. But [he] is a reflection of how our society behaves.” Globo reporter Andrei Kampff also put his two pence worth in, saying that, “The discussion goes above and beyond Jô. It is about us. It is about our permanent mania of supporting what we think to be just but doing that which favours ourselves.”

To an outsider it may seem odd to equate a handball goal in a game of football with the moral decadence of an entire nation, but Brazil is a country currently dealing with huge questions of ethics and decency in all walks of life, centred mostly on the ongoing and wide-reaching Lava Jato inquiry into political corruption. Football, as is always the case, is merely acting as a mirror to the social context in which it finds itself.

(Featured image: Fernando Dantas/Gazeta Press)

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