Could VAR Light Come To The Canadian Premier League?
The weekend saw two instances where a flash of red from the referee’s pocket resulted in plenty of controversy, along with the usual pleading of fans for VAR (video assistant referee) input, something which, due to its extremely expensive nature, is not available in Canada’s top flight.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a potential middle ground, though: meet VAR Light, something that has popped up in recent rumours regarding the league.
What Is VAR Light, Anyway?
Full-scaled VAR systems in each stadium are far too expensive for a league like the CPL to implement: there’s a tremendous cost that comes with a hefty list of equipment and staffing requirements. That’s where VAR Light could step in: intended for leagues with smaller broadcast setups, there’s a trial that could work with a 4-8 camera system that the CPL could use in a live match environment, though it requires approval for FIFA to implement.
FIFA states that this trial could run for a maximum of two years, with the results helping decide on the future use of VAR Light as a more permanent fixture around the world along with the technology’s impact for the laws of the game.
There’s also a 1-3 camera system trial, though this runs indirectly with referee decisions: in short, it would have no direct impact on the game, and thus wouldn’t impact what fans are seeing on the pitch.
What Would It Change?
This past weekend saw two controversial red cards that might have been changed had there been a video assistant referee present, or video that the on-field match officials could consult before sending a player off. Obviously, a VAR crew is not something the league is presently equipped to have: in a league that sees club averaging everything between just over 1,000 spectators to crowds of just over 6,000, the money simply isn’t there for such.
This week’s sending offs show two very different instances of red cards: the replay for Ashtone Morgan’s red card appears to show that there was no contact with Max Ferrari’s head. Forge’s appeal of the decision was successful, making the full-back available for this weekend’s match against Valour.
Romeo’s slow-mo replay shows that his elbow was not raised in the manner the referee likely thought it was, and while it was certainly a foul, whether it deserved a game-changing red card is highly debatable, though perhaps less clear and obvious. The club appealed the decision, and it was partially successful with his suspension being reduced to two matches.
Given that one of the two red cards were rescinded, it’s fair to say that VAR Light might have caught what was deemed to be a clear and obvious error right in the moment.
It’s important to remember that while red cards occupy a big portion of the discussion space, VAR Light can be used for than that: it can be used to decide whether a goal stand or whether a penalty was valid, and we all know how much those can change a match’s outcome.
Would The Canadian Premier League Give It A Go?
The Canadian Premier League’s commissioner, Mark Noonan, made no bones about his willingness to experiment as a young league that needs to differentiate its product on the field.
“We’re going to look at everything,” Noonan had said, “we can’t be afraid to experiment. If it doesn’t work, you can always go back to what it was, but if you don’t try things, you’ll never know.”
It’s been reported that all eight Canadian Premier League clubs agree that they’d like to implement a trial of VAR Light, though it’s not as easy as ticking a box: FIFA needs to approve the trial, funding needs to be acquired, the equipment needs to be provided, installed, and maintained (Mediapro doing so would save a headache), and finally referees and operators must then be trained on it.
While by design it costs dramatically less than a full VAR system, it’s not exactly something the league can jump into without a cost-benefit analysis, either.
Trials for VAR Light are already taking place in Brazil, Kazakhstan, Poland, the Netherlands, and France, along with the Asian Football Confederation’s Women’s Club Championship. The upper-tier camera setup is also future considerations for the English Championship and Women’s Super League, among others.
There’s a heavy interest in testing the viability of a less camera-and-cost intensive VAR solution. While the verdict is still out over in Europe and abroad, Canada’s own market could be another interesting litmus test for FIFA to invest in.
While it seems like all eight Canadian Premier League clubs are onboard with introducing the trial potentially as soon as this season, there’s no clear timeline on when VAR Light would truly arrive even if it was approved tomorrow.
With the league willing to experiment, however, the Canadian Premier League seems like an ideal professional setting to test VAR Light…but when it comes to confirming whether that will truly happen, we’re all left in the dark for now.