A utopian mood has gripped Fifa, with Gianni Infantino, the president, announcing the death of offside controversies and claiming VAR is “cleaning football.”
Infantino called Russia 2018 “the best World Cup ever” and claimed it has “changed” the host country for the better. But his homage to VAR spoke of a more reliable long-term transformation.
In the president’s traditional pre-final address, an hour passed before VAR came up in questions. “Nobody has asked - that means it’s accepted, it’s working, it’s working well,” Infantino said.
What followed was a love letter to review technology, laced with sci-fi language. “The results, and we’re talking about facts, not words, perceptions, are extremely clear and extremely positive,” Infantino said.
“There have been more than 440 checks, 19 reviews in 62 matches - so one every three and a half games. There were 16 decisions changed. Changed means from a wrong decision to a right decision.
“VAR is cleaning football, making it more transparent and honest, helping referees to make decisions. Ninety-five per cent of decisions were already correct. Thanks to VAR we increased it to 99.32%, the latest figures. Touch wood for the next two games.
“Offside goals are finished in football, at least with VAR. You will never see an offside goal scored because with VAR you either are, or you are not, offside. How many times have you [the press] been writing about this - is he offside or not? Now you will have other arguments because offside is finished.”
Infantino’s boast about this tournament producing “zero red cards for violent play” will intrigue England, who remember Jordan Henderson being double-butted in the Colombia game. Sepp Blatter’s successor is adamant though that surveillance is working: “Everyone knows that if they do this [miming an elbow in the face], one of the 36 or so cameras will spot it and you will be sent off.
“Today it’s difficult to think about the World Cup without VAR. It has been, certainly, a more just competition thanks to VAR. This is what we wanted to achieve and what we have achieved so far. We’ll see what we can improve and will improve it. Football poses more challenges but let’s look at the progress and what we achieved.”
In a mostly celebratory address, Infantino was challenged on Fifa’s refusal to pay the tens of thousands of World Cup volunteers - and on his earlier claim that the world has “fallen in love with Russia.” One reporter raised the litany of political charges against Russia, from annexations to repression to alleged interference in elections and state doping.
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This, after Infantino had said: “For a couple of years I’ve said this would be the best World Cup ever. Today I can say it with more conviction because I lived it and you lived it.”
Confronted by those thornier political issues, Infantino said: “I think there are many injustices in the world. Many things that are not working as citizens of the world would like them to work., There are many things we would like to change. There are many things that we are not happy they happen in the world. Not in one country, one region, area, but in the entire world.
“And of course we wave to try to work and speak and make things change for the good, wherever we can. But here we are at the World Cup. We are focusing on football and celebrating football. One of the things we are missing more and more in the world is the capacity to speak to each other. To have the dialogue. That is basis. If there is no dialogue no discussion, no understanding, respect, then we cannot go anywhere.”
Infantino also argued: “Russia has changed. It has become a real football country. A country where football has become part of the country’s DNA and the country’s culture,” adding, “it is a country extremely rich in culture, in history, in humanity.
“We can see it and discover it in all the cities. This has been a great adventure and I’m sure that the hundreds of thousands who came have enjoyed the warm and welcoming atmosphere. A lot of preconceived opinions have changed thanks to this World Cup, because everyone has seen the true nature of all the people in Russia.”
On the pitch, Infantino claimed a Croatia-France final “shows the level of football at the top is very wide and gives hope to all the teams - big or small doesn’t exist anymore.” Gigantism however persists, with Fifa pushing for a 48-team tournament as early as 2022 in Qatar, which will run from 21 November to 18 December.
“In this World Cup we had teams who are regulars, like Italy, The Netherlands, Chile, Cameroon, USA, who did not qualify. So the quality is certainly there,” Infantino said.
“Panama came for the first time, and they celebrated their first goal, against England, as if they had won the World Cup. Forty-eight teams is less than 25% of Fifa members.”
Infantino revealed that the Thai boys’ football team rescued from a cave will be invited to the Fifa Best Awards in September, but rejected calls for volunteers to be paid. He said: “We are all volunteers. As soon as we go home we drive our children to their football or basketball or handball tournaments.”
Some would call that parenting.