England fans fear the face of football will change forever after a FIFA executive let slip on Tuesday night that video assisted refereeing decisions could be sponsored at the 2018 World Cup, leading to NFL-style advertising timeouts.
Coaches and backroom staff representing the 32 finalists at a pre-tournament workshop in Moscow have been told to expect the controversial review technology to be deployed at all matches this summer.
The decision is expected to be confirmed at FIFA’s next council meeting in Colombia on March 15. But it has already been criticised by the Football Supporters’ Federation, which represents 500,000 English fans and claims the current video replay system is “not good enough” and causes “minutes-long” delays to matches.
But FIFA’s chief commercial officer Philippe Le Floc’h claimed VAR “definitely” will happen – and may be sponsored. That could result in a brand being displayed on TV each time a decision is reviewed.
During a recent World Cup trophy tour Le Floc’h said FIFA was already “talking to various technological companies who are very interested”.
Analysts said the move could boost the governing body’s World Cup coffers as it has struggled to attract sponsors for Russia.
Big backers of previous tournaments including Sony, Emirates, Castrol, Continental and Johnson & Johnson have not renewed their deals.
Five Chinese companies have stepped in but organisers are still five sponsors down on the number they attracted for Brazil 2014.
On Tuesday, FIFA distanced itself from Le Floc’h’s remarks, insisting he had not been speaking officially and no VAR sponsorship negotiations had yet taken place.
But the executive’s comments triggered supporters’ fears football could be lumbered with TV breaks, as occurs in American sports.
And the Football Supporters’ Federation said fans at matches would not know what was happening while reviews took place.
A spokesman said: “We have always backed the introduction of goalline technology so long as the results were instant and didn’t disrupt the game’s flow. That hasn’t been the case with VAR in domestic games this season.“As we saw in FA Cup games earlier this season there was a lack of communication between officials and fans meaning fans in the stadium didn’t know what was going on. That’s not good enough.
“Fans watching from the comfort of their sofa might be entertained by instant replays, pundits or analysis, but match-goers are an important part of football too and VAR isn’t working for them at present as the delays are minutes long.’’
European football’s governing body UEFA agree, and this week announced VAR would not be used in next season’s Champions League.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said: “I see a lot of confusion. We have to educate the referees properly and explain to the fans when it can be used. It might be a good project but we shouldn’t rush it.’’But FIFA president Gianni Infantino said tests in nearly 1,000 matches had proved VAR boosted the accuracy of decisions from “93 per cent to 98.9 per cent”.“If we can do something to make sure that the World Cup is not decided by a referee’s mistakes then it’s our duty to do it,” he added.
Meanwhile, England’s World Cup clash with Panama has been earmarked as a hooliganism hot spot by police.
Security experts say the June 24 group game in the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod is a potential flashpoint for violence.
Three days earlier Argentina play Croatia in the same city, and police fear Argentinian thugs will stay behind after their match and team up with local hooligans to wait for England supporters to arrive.
Police are expected to throw a ring of steel around the city during the three days between the England and Argentina matches.
England fans are sure to have a great time in Russia wearing their new kit with Nike (Check out Nike’s latest offers) as they seek for glory in the 2018 FIFA World Cup.