There were 29 penalty kicks called at the World Cup 2018, 16 more than at the previous tournament in Brazil. Of those -- VAR, which lets referees use video to review questionable plays -- helped officials make a decision 11 times. Even if VAR wasn't called upon to review every one of the penalty kicks, the fact that they more than doubled from Brazil 2014 shows the impact the tech has already had.
Any way you look at it, VAR provides a safety net for referees that they never had before. If a referee doesn't give a penalty kick that should've been, because of a legitimate foul, the officials in charge of the video feed can now alert him of his mistake and help reverse the call. The same goes if he gives a penalty incorrectly -- that's a luxury that simply didn't exist before. VAR lets referees fix their mistakes, which is great for the sport and its fans, like myself, who are tired of seeing their team being on the receiving end of a bad call. You can tell by the number of penalty kicks awarded in Russia that referees weren't afraid to blow the whistle, knowing that they had VAR either there to save (or expose) them.
While FIFA implemented VAR to avoid controversies, the system will always be controversial. There were moments in the 2018 World Cup, for example, were VAR was clearly needed but the ref ultimately decided against using it. In Brazil vs. Belgium during the Quarter Finals, there was a clear foul in the goalkeeper's box that could've been reviewed. Had VAR been used in that play, Brazil likely would've had a penalty kick in their favor. But there were also times when VAR saved the day, including during the Final, when the referee missed a handball but then overturned the call after consulting the system.
Altogether, VAR helped overturn 17 out of 20 wrong decisions at the World Cup 2018. These numbers scream success, but FIFA still needs to figure out how to ensure that referees use VAR more consistently. The Video Assistant Referee can help catch bad decisions, but it's ultimately up to the main match official (the one down on the pitch, not at the video booth) whether he wants to use it to help make or reverse a decision. Which doesn't make much sense if the ref in the booth is free to draw attention to a potential bad call in the first place, does it?
The system could be even more efficient if referees on the ground always have to listen to the ones looking at the VAR screens. FIFA is adamant that it wants referees, not the tech, to be the ones in control, but let's be clear, a referee in a video booth is still a referee. Hopefully, FIFA comes up with a reasonable way to address this disconnect.