Referees have one of the toughest jobs in sports as both sides inevitably disagree with their decisions, some even shouting and complaining throughout the duration of a game. Even if these referees perform with utmost objectivity, athletes will spot lapses and miscues in order for them to let their voice be heard. Team sports are thus difficult to officiate—especially football, with a combined 22 players moving simultaneously, yet only three referees on the pitch.
The recent innovation of the video assistant referee (VAR), introduced in several overseas competitions, has guided officials in making sure that correct decisions are made with respect to things like fouls. Handballs and offsides are just two of the most obvious infractions that are tough to properly observe in-game with the naked eye, but these brief instances can determine the outcome of a match.
The UAAP will soon be following in the footsteps of other leagues to take advantage of this new video technology in next year’s football tournament. Fans can now perhaps expect live video coverage and replays for all the matches, though the Board and partner media group ABS-CBN Sports have made no promises—even alluding to hiring tracksters to run around the pitch to capture every second of the match instead of installing moving cameras. They will, however, be investing in drones.
Request for adjustment
DLSU Booters coach Hans-Peter Smit was among the many football figures happy with the decision. In fact, Smit was at the forefront of pleading for VAR to step in, following La Salle’s crucial one-goal loss to the ADMU Blue Eagles last season. As the clock was winding down to the last few minutes of extra time, Atenean Luka Alleje’s cross met a powerful header by Julian Roxas to deal the final blow for the Green Booters as they succumbed to the Blue Eagles in the hard-fought championship match. It was a tough pill to swallow for the Green-and-White, and Smit was irate on the sidelines as he felt that Roxas was offside during that pivotal attack by Ateneo.
“It was so bleep obvious that he was offside. How did the bleep referees not see that? [Franz] Brosoto was all alone guarding the net, so how can it not be offside? My useless defenders all trailed behind him!” he exclaimed. Smit’s protests, however, were to no avail as the Blue Eagles snatched the crown from the Taft-based squad.
Even with the loss, Smit congratulated Ateneo for their never-say-die attitude. However, he stressed that the UAAP officials must consider the advantages of adding VAR for collegiate football. “To the people in charge of the rules in UAAP football: please consider putting into action the VAR system being used in the huge leagues in Europe. It will limit the judgment calls to be decided by the referees alone; the sunlight’s too strong in this country that it keeps blinding them,” he appealed.
A mutual decision
In a surprising twist of events, not only did the coaches of the UAAP football teams request for the inclusion of VAR, but the referees themselves did so as well. Among the many reasons cited by the referees, released collectively in a statement made by the Hulk Union of Yeet Referees for Football (HUYREFF), included was the difficulty of making a call when the game is in full swing. Referees would frequently be criticized for a call or a lack of one in almost every game, which is why they have requested another set of eyes to monitor the games. Glasses, despite giving an extra pair of eyes, were unfortunately proven to be insufficient.
“Mahirap talaga to referee a game, lalo na kapag lagi nagagalit the coaches, so feel namin makakatulong talaga the VAR sa pag-clarify sa mga coach…Lalo na kay coach Hans, takot talaga kami,” reveals Brace Fridge, who is the Pitchside Maintenance Scout of HUYREFF. He explains that the clarity and clear-cut decisions that VAR can provide would ease the burden of the referees on the pitch.
(It is really difficult to referee a game, especially when the coaches get angry. We feel that VAR will help in clarifying the decisions to the coaches, especially for coach Hans, who intimidates us.)
Moreover, he cites the heat that is emitted on the fields where the tournament is usually held, especially since UAAP football action normally unfolds in the heart of the season of summer. “Ang hot kase sa pitch lagi, gusto namin magkaroon ng VAR para sana there kami ma-assign for the aircon,” referee Fridge expresses.
(We want VAR to be implemented, so hopefully we get assigned there to feel the aircon.)
The new VAR system will be immediately introduced into the UAAP scene, as they are looking to fully implement it for the upcoming 83rd season for both the men’s and women’s divisions. A monitor will be placed in between the dugouts of the teams for the on-field referee to view if needed; meanwhile, a separate team of referees will be operating the VAR system from a remote and classified location, viewing videos as they are gradually transmitted from the cameras and drones.
The implementation of the new system will likely add an element of controversy and excitement to the UAAP scene, affecting all of the games for various reasons. Not to mention, it is probably going to be the most time-consuming VAR system in the world due to the incredibly slow Wi-Fi connection here in the Philippines.
Fridge’s take on the matter is simple: “I mean, oo, babagal naman talaga ‘yung laro; lalampas ‘yan 90 minutes so siguro adjust adjust din the schedule. Pero gusto nating maging fair and accurate, diba? Tsaka cool kaya the drone shots, parang FIFA lang.”
(Yes, it is inevitable that the game will slow down and extend beyond 90 minutes, so I guess we’ll have to adjust the schedule. We want to be fair and accurate, right? And the drone shots would look cool, similar to playing a game of FIFA.)