The FIFA Club World Cup is quickly growing in pedigree as top clubs from across the globe with continental championships in hand compete for a world club title.
Played on an annual basis, the FIFA tournament has also often doubled as a testing ground for new technologies and rule changes that FIFA wishes to put on display for a global audience in a tournament that has a worldwide audience but also would not be a total disaster competitively if things went awry.
In the past, FIFA has tested technology such as vanishing spray (2013), VAR (2016), and semi-automated offside (2021) at the Club World Cup, as it’s the perfect combination of high-profile visibility with just enough matches to make it a meaningful experiment.
This year’s Club World Cup in Morocco, dubbed the 2022 Club World Cup but set to take place in early February 2023 after the FIFA World Cup delay to this past December, will feature another notable trial that could prove awkward at first, but will hopefully be streamlined into a positive addition to VAR that can ease some confusion amongst fans and commentators for decisions made on replay review.
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Why referees are announcing VAR decisions
Video Assistant Referee, or VAR, has remained controversial since its implementation a number of years ago. One of the biggest criticisms of VAR is that fans in the stadium, and even some of those watching on television, are confused about why certain decisions were made, or even what was being checked to begin with.
FIFA has opted to alleviate that concern by trialing a new method of dissemination at the FIFA Club World Cup in 2023. In this tournament, referees will use a stadium-wide intercom to explain VAR decisions over a microphone to fans both at the ground and watching on the TV broadcast.
Fans will not hear the conversation between on-field official and VAR officials, but they will be given an explanation of the decisions if the official opts to do so.
NEW: referees at Club World Cup next week (incl Anthony Taylor) will announce reason for VAR decisions to stadium & TV audience via their mike as part of trial authorised by @TheIFAB today. Could also be used in women’s World Cup – more on @timessport soon
— Martyn Ziegler (@martynziegler) January 18, 2023
This begins a 12-month trial of the system, which could be implemented at the 2023 Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in the summer if all goes well at the Club World Cup in Morocco.
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First referee announces decision on mic at Club World Cup
The first instance of a referee sharing his decision on the mic for the benefit of the stadium crowd happened in the very first match of the 2023 FIFA World Cup between Al Ahly and Auckland City on February 1.
Referee Ma Ning had the honour, and the VAR check and video review occurred in stoppage time. Ning had awarded Al Ahly a penalty kick after a wild Auckland challenge near the top of the box. But the VAR suggested a review, and after seeing the video, Ning reversed his decision, noting the foul was actually outside the penalty area.
For that reason he scratched the penalty, but he also gave Auckland centre-back Adam Mitchell a red card for denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity (DOGSO).
The stadium’s audio sound system wasn’t terribly sharp and it was hard to make out Ma Ning’s words, but history was nonetheless made.
⚽️‼️ Nos cuenta @itu_edu la PRIMERA EXPLICACIÓN OFICIAL DEL VAR con el micro por un colegiado
🗣️ El chino Ma Ning ha informado a los espectadores sobre el motivo de la intervención del VAR en el Al Ahly – Auckland City del Mundial de Clubes 2022
🇪🇸 Martínez Munuera en el VAR pic.twitter.com/gbU1wEsi18
— Carrusel Deportivo (@carrusel) February 1, 2023
Other sports which use referee announcements of review decisions
While it can — and likely will — seem awkward at first, FIFA’s decision to implement referee announcements of review decisions comes after most other sports have instituted a similar concept.
In the United States, the National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), and National Hockey League (NHL) all feature official explanations of review decisions to fans. The National Basketball Association (NBA) does not, but in both NBA and NCAA Basketball games, the officials often are able to explain decisions to television broadcasters who sit courtside and then discuss the decision on the broadcast.
MLB is the most recent league to institute umpires announcing replay decisions to fans, and while it was incredibly awkward at first as the officials got used to describing calls, it quickly became natural and has been a positive for the league. These explanations across these leagues have now become an integral part of video replay, and often provide invaluable clarity, context, and rule breakdowns on replay decisions instead of leaving fans and broadcasters to speculate on what occurred.
In international and domestic cricket, replay reviews are so advanced and streamlined that the International Cricket Council (ICC) has implemented a video review system that allows fans to actually hear the officials discussion decisions in real time while making determinations. This has increased transparency significantly and cut down on confusion.
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Referees at Club World Cup in 2023
The following six officials will be charged with matches at the 2022 Club World Cup in February.
Most notably, Premier League official Anthony Taylor will appear at the Club World Cup in Morocco this year, having refereed two matches at the World Cup just two months prior, both in the group stage. He is one of two UEFA officials to take part, the only confederation with two referees.
The North American representative is Ivan Barton of El Salvador, who officiated the CONCACAF Champions League final which saw Seattle Sounders beat UNAM Pumas to qualify for this Club World Cup.
Fans may recognise Mustapha Ghorbal of Algeria, who refereed two group stage matches at the FIFA World Cup two months ago, and saw action at last year’s Club World Cup, officiating two matches and serving as the fourth official for the final. This is his third Club World Cup, having also officiated one match in 2019.
|Andres Matonte Cabrera||CONMEBOL||Uruguay|
|Ivan Barton||CONCACAF||El Salvador|