A duty to fairness: Yemeni soccer referee used video replays long before VAR

Sana’a- The Yemeni American News

Years before World Cup referees were drawing a box in the air to signal that they will review game incidents on video, a Yemeni referee relied on video replay to determine the legitimacy of a questionable goal in 2006.

At the time in the Yemeni League, making a decision based on video replays broke conventional rules. But it was necessary, said former referee Ahmed Qaid Saif, who is now the head of the Referee Committee at the Yemeni Football Association.

FIFA introduced the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in the World Cup in Russia this summer to cut back on officiating mistakes.
The history of the World Cup has been marred by illegitimate goals, uncalled penalties and conspiracy theories related to the performance of match officials, not athletes.

Furthermore, soccer players have a reputation for exaggerating – and sometimes simulating – their falls to earn fouls inside the penalty box.

From Diego Maradona’s hand strike against England in 1986 to South Korea’s contentious victories against Spain and Italy in 2002, the World Cup has not been short of controversies.

Maradona claimed that the goal that he scored against England came “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God.”

But if video replays had been used, he would have been handed a yellow card and the goal would have been cancelled.
In 2002, South Korea were hosts, and they defeated the Spaniards and Italians to make it to the semi-finals – the first Asian team to reach the stage. Both games featured bizarre refereeing decisions, including two disallowed goals for Spain and a red card for Italy’s star player Francesco Totti.
The referee who oversaw South Korea v Italy was arrested in New York in 2010 for drug smuggling, fuelling Italians’ allegations that he may have been bribed to be biased in favor of the hosts.

VAR supporters say the technology ensures the right call, and it has already led to the correction of several decisions in Russia. Opponents criticise it for stopping the flow of the game to double-check decisions.

The debate over video technology in soccer may have started in Yemen in 2006.
It was a game between al-Tilal and al-Saqr in Aden. Al-Saqr earned a free kick outside the box that ended up in the back of the net. But something looked wrong, Saif told YAN. The ball appeared to whizz by, not inside, the post.
“I didn’t want to be unfair to anyone, so quickly, I asked the fourth official to run to the video room to assess the legitimacy of the goal,” Saif said.

As it happened, there was a hole on the side of the net that let the ball in from the outside. The “ghost goal” was disallowed – correctly.

“Although our decision was surprising and outside the bylaws of the game at the time, we found it necessary to ensure that the right decision is made,” Saif said.

He added that the decision was welcomed by players and the Football Association.

VAR may be the future of the world’s popular game, and it may have been inspired by a Yemeni referee who felt a duty to make the correct call.