FIFA World Cup

Fifa World Cup: With VAR, attributing defeat to refereeing may become a thing of the past

Video Assistant Referees will not only get calls right, it will become a check against anticipated discrimination.

African fans have always seen match officiating at the World Cup as one reason why their teams fail to do better than they have done so far. Now technology is set to come to the aid of African teams and their fans during the World Cup in Russia.

Earlier this year, football’s umbrella body, the International Federation for Football Associations (FIFA), announced that it will use the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) for World Cup matches in Russia. It is one of the rule changes at the 2018 World Cup. The other allows a fourth substitute when the game goes into extra time.

BBC Sport described the VAR as,

basically like another referee’s assistant – but one that has access to TV replays from a multitude of angles.

A VAR will support the head referee in each of the World Cup’s 64 matches. The video assistant referee team, all top FIFA referees in their own right, are located in a centralised video operation room in Moscow. The system involves them watching the action remotely and then drawing the match referee’s attention to officiating mistakes.

Described as an “historic step for greater fairness in football”, the VAR will aim to reduce unfairness caused by “clear and obvious errors” or “serious missed incidents” in relation to:

  • Goals and offences leading up to a goal;
  • Penalty decisions and offences leading up to a penalty;
  • Direct red card incidents only; or
  • Mistaken identity (when the referee cautions or sends off the wrong player of the offending team).

The VAR is, particularly, intriguing because a year-long study by Belgian University KU Leuven shows that the VAR increases officiating accuracy from 93% to 98.8% and time lost using the system is just an average of 55 seconds. The university study is based on over 1,000 games where the VAR was used.

Rectifying poor calls

While, several analysts have focused on the VAR rectifying poor calls during matches at the 2018 World Cup, few point to why African fans (along with fans of other less favoured teams) welcome the use of the VAR. African fans have been alleging biased refereeing decisions for years at the World Cup – a case in point was in Italy in 1990 when Cameroon were controversially ousted by England. Two arguable calls went England’s way in that memorable quarter final against Cameroon prompting protests and riots in Cameroon by frustrated fans.

At the 1998 World Cup in France, match officials contentiously overruled two Cameroon goals in a game that Cameroon finally drew 1-1 with Chile, sending the African team home after the first round. Many Africans still believe that the officials were wrong to overrule those goals.

At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, African fans felt that Nigeria were on the receiving end of particularly poor, “biased” refereeing in their match against France. Perhaps, with the VAR, results would have been different in each of those cases.

Social perception

Austrian psychologist Fritz Heider’s attribution theory partly explains why African fans feel hard done by. More than 50 years ago, Heider wrote a treatise on the processes that impact social perception, on how ordinary people explain events as they do.

That treatise is an excellent tool for how the African World Cup fan explains the World Cup and failure of African teams.

This means that Cameroon’s victories on the way to meeting England at the 1990 World Cup were attributed to the team’s great play, and their ability, among other virtues. The African fans would most likely have cited forward Roger Milla‘s brilliance, the team’s collective speed and their individual talent as reasons for Cameroon’s victories.

However, they would not attribute the defeat against England to England’s talent, skill, tactics or other dispositions. For negative results like that, Heider informs us, attribution is no longer made to dispositions but to situations. Thus, the attribution or causes become poor match officiating, the systemic racism that denies African teams a chance, and so on.

Fans’ rationale

Heider’s attribution theory provides us ways to understand the rationale of the African fan at the World Cup. However, that’s about to change with the introduction of the VAR. Rather than concluding that a non-African referee discriminates against Africans, the VAR becomes the check against such anticipated discrimination.

Thus, the VAR will not only get calls right, it will make things fair and do so by creating an impression of fairness. At least, attributing defeat or failure to refereeing may become a thing of the past. Although, Heider argues, there could be newer attributions. This time, however, newer attributions may be the weather, the hotel, or other perceived disruptions.

Those are somewhat more palatable than blaming match officials. One thing we know is that improvements to the game often advance fairness. FIFA’s decision to play the final two group games simultaneously reduced possibilities of fixed results after Germany and Austria were widely believed to have fixed the result of their game at the 1982 World Cup which eliminated Algeria. So welcome to the VAR.

Chuka Onwumechili, Professor of Communications, Howard University.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”


“Like what?”


A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”




“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:


This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.