The referee’s decision is final. That has always been the case in water polo. But, worldwide we are making decisions based on our finite vision on a daily basis and sometimes wish we had some backup. VAR — Video Assisted Review — is that tool and it has made a sudden impact on the sport this year. No longer will goals at major events go unrewarded.
VAR — Video Assisted Review — was to the fore at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics water polo and its full impact was felt in both men’s and women’s competitions.
It was a long time coming, but its presence in Tokyo meant that 27 decisions were made with the assistance of the eight-camera technology and skilled operators.
Thirteen women’s and 14 men’s decisions came from the VAR in the 74 matches with it being utilised twice in one women’s and one men’s matches.
Some decisions on the television screen seemed inconclusive, but the VAR cameras are situated exactly on the goal-line on either side of the pool at each end. This exactness made it easier for referees to adjudge if the ball did indeed cross the line 100 per cent of the time.
It was amazing to see what did and didn’t cross, especially as I sat on the halfway line 10 rows up from pool level and was no judge of exactitude. The referee, however, could turn the dial frame by frame to ensure that a correct decision could be implemented.
Asked the reasoning behind VAR and its implementation at FINA events, Mark Koganov, Vice-Chair of the Technical Water Polo Committee, said: “It was for obvious reasons — better governance for the sport, better transparency and goal/no goal. You just have to look back to London 2012 and European Championships in Barcelona in 2018. Big scandals! So, we were searching for six months in the market for a company to work with and we did some research. Finally, we decided to go with this company, Slomo TV.
“They had no experience with water polo, but did have with other team sports. So, we built up a system according to our requirements. Basically, what it does now is not just goal/no goal, but it covers the entire field of play with benches, jury table and the pool and we can track what is happening during a game — wrong timeout call, incorrect player re-entry and the excluded player coming in early. We can observe all these situations.
“The goal/no goal is important, but it is not all."
“We have two engineers travelling to the competitions and they are responsible for the installment and monitoring it during matches. As it was in Tokyo, there were special referees doing only VAR. Until now we had many referees, but at the Olympics they specialised only on VAR,” Mr Koganov said.
The system cost a lot of money for FINA, but for the game and the outcome of a tournament, this is the best, he said. “Tokyo proved that it’s worth the money spent.”
It is not just the goal/no goal that is in everyone’s mind.
“Most importantly, everyone knows we can use for after-match review for brutality or flagrant violations of the rules. It cannot go without punishment. We could do nothing about it in the past as were not able to review any situations. In Tokyo, we had no brutalities. It played a major role (as a deterrent). It has had a huge effect in our game, just the fact that we have it,” he said.
“We’re using it in Prague (FINA World Men’s Junior Championships) also, because we think all referees should get familiar with the system. This is the second group after Olympics and they will use it in the future.”
Mr Koganov says that where the VAR was not needed in Tokyo (50 per cent of the matches) it had the effect on the others of cleaning up the game.
“Usually what we do in very close calls, is we review after the game that the decision has been taken correctly.”
He said that some people had asked for the VAR viewing be incorporated with the television coverage and be shown on screen.
“Presently that is not possible. It’s possible in future, but we need to find a cheap solution. Software in tennis and other sports with animation costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“Perhaps for the next major competition we will come up with some solution seen on the big screen,” Mr Koganov said.