Russia insight… How VAR will impact the World Cup

With the use of video assistant referees (VAR) already having a huge impact on European football this season, the game is now braced for the further integration of VAR at this summer’s Russian World Cup.

Not only will VAR be utilised in each matchday, but it will also be used to give retrospective red cards for off the ball incidents, both during and after matches have been played. 

Furthermore, the Premier League has opted to extend its trial of VAR as opposed to implementing it next season, the heightened use of the technology at this summer’s tournament could have an adverse impact on the England side.

It’s something that England manager Gareth Southgate has already addressed when he stated: “It is a system that everybody is still getting used to. We have got to be vigilant in all areas of the pitch because we are not 100 per cent sure, until we have the full briefing, on whether this situation of something happening 20 minutes before half-time and then something being implemented at half-time is the reality.

“If you look at any corner, for example, if you go looking for infringements you are going to find hundreds. So how that is going to be interpreted is going to be really important for consistency in the tournament.”

Jeevan Jeyaratnam

In terms of the betting value of the World Cup, with VAR already impacting the exponential rise of in-play betting, it remains to be seen how the deepened use of the technology will affect in-play betting at Russia 2018.

Head of Compilation at Abelson Info, Jeevan Jeyaratnam outlined: “It is going to be negligible, there may need to be an extended bet acceptance window, negatively affecting the UX.

“However, market pricing will remain unaffected as long as the live scout feed and subsequent pricing inputs are all on the same page. A firm using their own in-play models, with different input providers could find themselves in a difficult situation if the inputs don’t agree on the correct score. It is hard to envisage this being an issue with just 64 matches to preside over. Firms will have enough eyes on each game to ensure they are offering the correct pricing.”

Further analysing how it will alter the appeal of the World Cup as a betting product, Jeyaratnam adds: “There are reasons to be concerned about the use of the system. Despite FIFA’s very clear guidelines about its use, it is still very much in a nascent phase, and despite the number of workshops the referees have been on, there are going to be a number at the competition who have never had the option to use a VAR before.

“This is bound to lead to some controversial moments, especially in the group stage when the full suite of referees will be in action. Whereas goal-line technology is very much a binary concept, the personal view of one official to another is very much subjective and is bound to lead to some interesting conversations with the Moscow based VAR, though in what language they make take place, is anyone’s guess.”

In-play pricing may not be the sole market that’s impacted by the use of VAR at this summer’s showpiece event, with the technology’s heavy presence also likely to affect the levels of retrospective action in Russia, an element that could lead to increased fragility of ante-post markets and card markets.

Jeyaratnam emphasised: “Post-match disciplinary action isn’t necessarily new, but I guess it is now more likely. Depending on the player, impacts are likely to hit goalscorer/next match/outright prices hardest, but unless the disciplinary actions revolve around key individuals, the impact is likely to be minimal. The Top Scorer market may be slower to update if there are question marks surrounding a potential ban. Firms will be very much in the dark as to how this World Cup will be affected by the use of VAR. Personally, it seems more likely that referees will shy away from making instinctive decisions and refer far more than they would for a league game; the eyes of the world will be cast upon every game, that is some pressure for a referee. The easy call is to refer as much as possible.

“One point for customers to bear in mind revolves around operators’ settlement rules for card markets. Most firms will stop the market upon completion of the 90 mins, or when the players have left the field. There are bound to be some disgruntled punters who feel they should be paid out if subsequent cards are awarded- I’d expect to see some concessions around this if it proves a significant factor in this tournament.”

Jeyaratnam details how this past season will stand operators in good stead for the tournament: “Firms have now had some experience with VAR and how it can impact on their markets. One, generally overlooked issue has been the way that the live scout feeds have handled VAR overrules.

“Pre-VAR there wasn’t a need for a scout message to suggest that a decision may be changed, but subsequent to the introduction of the controversial assistant referee system, this has proved necessary. Settlement rules based on these live messages have come unstuck when a goal has been given, or taken away, after the referee’s initial decision. I believe the main providers have now released an updated set of protocols, but it remains to be seen how many firms have altered how their systems work to accommodate this.”