TWO contentious decisions in Jamaica's Concacaf Nations League games earlier this month have reopened the debate about having video assistant referee (VAR) decisions in the tournament.
A goal line clearance by Haiti's Johny Placide from a shot by Jamaica midfielder Kacey Palmer, and a goal by Jamaica attacker Bobby Decordova-Reid ruled offside against Honduras were both seen by fans and pundits as questionable calls which did not have the opportunity for review by VAR.
Palmer's shot was especially contentious as Jamaica drew that game 2-2.
While VAR will be used in the Nations League final, which will be staged in the United States of America, it does not exist at this stage of the competition.
VAR was, however, previously used in a major Concacaf tournament. Concacaf decided to implement VAR towards the later rounds of the final stage of Fifa World Cup qualifying matches in 2021. The regional body said the COVID-19 pandemic and health concerns regarding hosting matches had hampered its implementation in earlier games.
But Jamaica Captain Andre Blake thinks it should be implemented at an earlier stage.
"Personally, I like VAR," Blake said after the game against Haiti on September 12. "It has a lot more positives than negatives. If there's a play where the goal should be disallowed, you'd want to have that even though, if you're the one that scored, you'd much rather it be given. I think having VAR is very important. And the game against Honduras, that would've helped for sure. Bobby's goal was definitely onside."
Head Coach Heimir Hallgrímsson also wants to see VAR at this stage of the tournament.
"I more or less agree [with Blake]," Hallgrímsson said. "I think Concacaf referees would benefit."
While VAR will be used in the final, its absence from Leagues A, B, and C's group stages is down to the lack of resources to implement it in some of Concacaf's smaller associations. This is in part due to financing and the small stadiums being used for some games.
Randy Harris is the Caribbean Football Union president and a vice-president at Concacaf. He says while there are instances when VAR could probably be used in games between smaller nations in the region, it would be unfeasible to implement it simultaneously throughout all three leagues in the Nations League .
"The truth is, the implementation of VAR is a very expensive exercise," Harris told the Jamaica Observer. "Basically, the islands in the Caribbean cannot afford to have VAR on their own, as it is at the moment.
"Concacaf has been setting up VAR in critical competitions, and more at the final stages. The issue is simply that VAR is a specialised system, and you cannot do it halfway. In other words, you cannot set up VAR only to check corners or offsides; it's a complex system and it is very, very expensive because of the cost of setting up.
"Obviously there are people in Concacaf being trained, as we speak, to deal with VAR but it all hinges on funding. At this time it would not be possible to set it up in 19 countries simultaneously. I think that's the problem."
While Concacaf has not shared an official cost of setting up VAR for a game, it is understood that the English FA spends £1.2 million (about $330 million) per season to implement VAR in the English Premier League. That works out to £3,158 (roughly $604,000) for one of 380 games that season.
But Ugandan website Pulse Sports reports that world governing body Fifa says that it understands the challenges smaller nations face to implement VAR for matches and it is trying to find a cheaper solution.
"We will be introducing VAR lite to allow those with lesser means to have it," Pulse Sports reports Fifa President Gianni Infantino as saying. "We have tested it in the Futsal World Cup and it worked, because we want each of the 211 members to have some technology to aid the referees."
It is understood that VAR is now being used in over 100 nations.