VAR sights set for 2024 debut in SA: ‘We’re still at baby steps,’ warns SAFA’s Jerome Damon Latest

VAR sights set for 2024 debut in SA: ‘We’re still at baby steps,’ warns SAFA’s Jerome Damon

Bamlak Weyesa views the VAR during the CAF Champions League match between Mamelodi Sundowns and Petro de Luanda at FNB Stadium on April 23, 2022 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Gallo Images)

  • Over 55 leagues worldwide have adopted VAR technology, but it has yet to debut in South Africa’s DStv Premiership.
  • SAFA has expressed their intention to implement VAR, but when it will be introduced remains uncertain.
  • Jerome Damon, chairman of the SAFA referees technical committee, emphasised the need for qualified officials to operate VAR, comparing their qualifications to those of pilots.
  • For more sports news, go to the News24 Sport front page.

It has been five years since the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system was successfully implemented at the 2018 Football World Cup in Russia, but it has yet to make its debut in South Africa’s DStv Premiership.

Since then, the crucial aid for referees is common practice in 55 leagues worldwide.

Among African nations, Morocco, Algeria and Egypt are the only countries that have implemented VAR systems in their professional leagues.

Following its success at the World Cup in Russia, Europe’s top five leagues adopted VAR in the subsequent seasons.

The CAF Champions League used it last season at the home games of Mamelodi Sundowns and Kaizer Chiefs.

The need for the technology in South Africa hit home after six Premier Soccer League (PSL) coaches, within the space of a month, expressed their discontent with the level of officiating in the league last season.

The need for VAR was also keenly felt early on this season after Sekhukhune United’s goalkeeper, Badra Sangare, was supposedly pushed across the goal line by Moroka Swallows’ Gabadinho Mhango while holding onto the ball, which is deemed to be illegal, but the goal was awarded by referee Siyabonga Nkomo.

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In June, the South African Football Association (SAFA), as is required practice, sent a letter of intent to FIFA outlining its plans to implement VAR in South Africa.

As is also standard practice, FIFA must acknowledge the letter of intent, which then leads to a meeting between the said federation and FIFA.

SAFA failed to comment on whether FIFA had responded to their letter.

The Premier Soccer League (PSL) has approved the implementation of VAR in all top-flight games, but the stamp of approval must come from FIFA itself as to whether or not the DStv Premiership will have the necessary funds and equipment for the support tool to be used in the league.

Chairman of the SAFA Referee Committee, Victor Gomes, has been the driving force behind VAR and its introduction to football in South Africa.

News24 spoke to Jerome Damon, chairman of SAFA’s referees technical committee, to discuss the details of the VAR implementation and its sustainability within the game in South Africa.

Damon said the timeline concerning its full implementation cannot be set in stone because an array of factors need to be addressed before the tool can be used.

“Training and education of the match officials needs to happen with those people operating the system, as well as the education of all role players. I can’t really put a timeline as to when this will fully be seen in the PSL.”

There are certain criteria that need to be met before VAR is put in place, which is set and monitored by both FIFA and the IAAP (International Association of Accessibility Professionals) in which every individual involved with the running of VAR is required to have a specific licence to operate everything that goes into the assistant tool.

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Damon explained that referees are required to undergo extensive training.

“Similar to how pilots are required to have a certain level of qualification before flying a plane, referees have to be qualified to use VAR. They are required to do simulator sessions, online and offline sessions, as well as many other different training facets,” he said.

Gomes has stated that he would like to see VAR first being utlised at the Nedbank Cup final (scheduled for 2024) which Damon says is a good early sign.

“The fact that Mr Gomes has earmarked the Nedbank Cup final as VAR’s first introduction in South Africa should be an encouragement for the entire country as we are moving in the direction of VAR and we should embrace it, instead of sitting back and questioning whether it is a risk or not.”

Damon spoke on the issue of having the technology capable of allowing fans to hear referees speak during a game.

In the French Ligue 1, referee Benoit Millot was mic’d up during a Lyon and Nantes game last season as fans gained insight into the dialogue between referees, coaches and players and why the ref awarded or did not award a certain decision.

More recently during the FIFA Women’s Football World Cup, which was jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand, referees were required to explain their decision to both the crowd in the stadium and viewers at home.

“I understand we have seen this more and more, especially recently at the Women’s World Cup, but this has come after years and years of training and implementation,” said Damon.

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“We are still at baby steps, so let us first implement VAR correctly and effectively before we move into those intricacies of VAR.”

Damon, who retired as a professional referee in 2014, explained to what extent VAR would have assisted him when he was down on the pitch.

“I remember I recently walked in on a game and got a glimpse of a foul being committed and immediately shouted, ‘penalty’.

“I was wondering and quite angry as to why the ref did not award the penalty … I would have loved VAR to review some of the decisions I got wrong.”

At the end of the day, despite the multitude of cameras and technology, human error and intervention are still at the heart of the most controversial decisions made by the referee in today’s game.