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Not before time, pro soccer will finally start testing in-game video replays

Considering how many years it took soccer to get around to the idea of goal-line technology, let alone to actually start using it, the sport can seem rather behind the times to many.

So get this: FIFA, the sport’s governing body, said Thursday it’s looking to expand its use of technology in the game by introducing … wait for it … video replays for officials, something that’s been used in major U.S. sports for years now.

Testing of its new Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system, which’ll serve to help officials call difficult decisions, is expected to start early next year, with Major League Soccer (MLS) one of those chosen to trial the technology. Germany’s Bundesliga, Australia’s Hyundai A-League, and several soccer tournaments in Brazil will also be involved.

“Major League Soccer has been a strong proponent of using technology in soccer where it enhances the game, and we are pleased to be among the first leagues in the world to participate in the VAR project,” Don Garber, MLS Commissioner, said in a release. He added it was now time “for a mechanism that helps referees avoid clearly incorrect decisions that change the game.”

Just like in American sports, the system offers a booth-based official the ability to view video that shows events on the field from multiple angles. When called upon, they can quickly review a play and communicate with on-field officials to help with important decisions such as goals, penalty and offside decisions, and red card incidents.

It seems much of soccer’s resistance to technology came from former FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who left the post last year amid a corruption scandal involving a number of the governing body’s officials.

Blatter, who held soccer’s top job for 17 years, had always maintained that the sport should keep its “human face” and reject new technology, claiming that debate among fans around controversial decisions made the game more exciting.

Lampard's goal that wasn't a goal.
Lampard’s goal that wasn’t a goal.

But in 2010 he had a change of heart after witnessing an incident at the World Cup Finals in South Africa when the England team scored a clear goal in a game against Germany – only for the ref to rule that the ball didn’t go over the line. Had he seen what millions of soccer fans around the world saw on their TVs at home – including endless slow-motion replays of the ball passing over the line – he would obviously have given the goal.

With so much money in the game today, and players’ and managers’ careers possibly dependent on crucial decisions made during a game, the only surprise is that it’s taken this long for FIFA to finally start looking at ways to bring video replays into the sport.

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