No VAR in Champions League next season, as Ceferin expects further tests
By Simon Ward
Video assistant referee technology will not be employed in the Uefa Champions League next season, but could be introduced in future years if it is considered a success at this year’s Fifa World Cup.
The annual general assembly of the International Football Association Board, the body responsible for the laws of soccer, takes place next weekend, at which a decision will be taken on whether to ratify the use of VAR across the elite game.
Following two years of trials in various competitions, the IFAB leadership has already recommended that the technology be widely adopted, paving the way for its use at the World Cup in Russia in June and July.
However, VAR, which helps to resolve decisions over goals, penalties, sendings-off and cases of mistaken identity, has had a mixed reception from the media and soccer fans, and Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin has doubts over its full adoption, and will not push for it to feature in the Champions League, at least for now.
In a press conference after the Uefa Congress in Bratislava today, he said: “I don’t think they [IFAB] will make it a rule. They will allow everyone to test it. I think it will be used for the World Cup.
“We will not use it in the next season of the Champions League. I can tell you that. I am not absolutely against it. We cannot turn back. But we need to educate the referees better and explain to you [the media] and the fans when do you use it.
“Nobody exactly knows how it works, which might be a big problem. Let’s see what happens at the World Cup, and then we will decide.”
VAR has been tested in Fifa competitions, including the Club World Cup and Confederations Cup, plus major leagues such as Germany’s Bundesliga, Italy’s Serie A, North America’s Major League Soccer and Australia’s A-League, and, to a limited extent, in England’s FA Cup and League Cup competitions.
However, concerns have been expressed over which decisions are referred, delays to matches and the lack of communication to spectators in the stadiums.
Pressed on his lack of commitment to VAR and whether its widespread use to date went beyond a ‘trial’, Ceferin said: “The biggest leagues in Europe, with the exception of the Premier League, have tested it. Are they experimenting? It’s hard to say.
“For me, it might be a good project, it might be useful for football, but we should not rush into decisions that are not clear. For me I see a lot of confusion from time to time, but that does not mean I am against it or that I don’t think it will happen [in the Champions League].”
Fifa president Gianni Infantino is more encouraged by the technology, telling reporters in Bratislava: "We have to base decisions on facts and not feelings. The facts are that from almost 1,000 matches which were tested, the accuracy rate of the referees went up from 93 per cent to 99 per cent.
"If we, or I, can do something to make sure that the World Cup is not decided by a referee’s mistakes, then I think it’s our duty to do it."
Competitive balance A bigger priority for the Uefa president appears to be competitive balance, with fears that the Champions League is becoming dominated by clubs from the wealthiest markets of England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
Those five countries account for 12 of the teams in the last 16 of this season’s competition.
Speaking at the Congress, Ceferin said: “We must dare to rethink our models, in particular to establish greater competitive balance, one of the greatest challenges facing the future and present of football.
"The club game still requires our serious attention. We must dream big but I cannot promise you the moon because I am not a merchant of dreams and I am not a politician.
"I will fight tooth and nail to introduce measures which restore some balance, but I cannot claim that this will result in a club such as Steaua Bucharest or Red Star Belgrade [both former European Cup winners] being next to have their name engraved on the Champions League trophy."
Ahead of the decision on the host of the 2026 World Cup, which will made at the Fifa Congress in Moscow on 12 and 13 June, Ceferin said Uefa does not feel the need to adopt the policy of soccer’s world governing body, and allow its full membership to decide the hosts of major competitions.
All 211 Fifa members, with the exception of the participating bidders, will have the right to vote for either the joint bid of USA, Canada and Mexico or the solo bid of Morocco.
The decision to expand the vote beyond the Fifa executive committee, now Fifa council, was made in the interests of openness and transparency, and in the wake of the controversial bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which was overshadowed by allegations of corruption.
However, Ceferin is happy for the Uefa executive committee to retain responsibility for similar decisions within Europe.
He said: “I think the Uefa system is much better than the system in Fifa. The Congress cannot be [as] informed on the details on the bids.
“Secondly, Fifa has public voting on the decision of the World Cup, which shows everyone knows how you voted, and can check how you voted. I do not think it is a good principle. We speak to all the other confederations and they agree that the system is a bit strange.
“The Uefa system is better although, in a way, bearing in mind what happened a few years ago, I am happy I am not deciding at the Fifa level.”