The Need for the Video Assistant Referee in Costa Rica

Unlike the MLS or the Bundesliga or La Liga, the Costa Rican top flight doesn’t have the Video Assistant Referee. Currently in the Costa Rican top flight especially this Apertura season, the whole season was mired with controversy. The main issue was that there were many times a single call impacted how a game ended. The first time  I saw was in the second week where my team was down in stoppage time, Allen Guevara was dribbling into the box and was tackled inside the box , clearly a penalty kick, NO CALL. This happened every single week until it reached the week of El Classico Nacional, the second of two matches between Alajuelense and Deportivo Saprissa. In that game alone there were three major calls blown.

  1. The first, was a missed call on a challenge that was normal, the referee called it a free kick which ended up as a goal
  2. The second, a phantom goal which was offsides where the Saprissa player was 9/10ths (Rule is that if any body part is ahead of the last defender it is an offside call) ahead of the last defender and was not called by either the linesman or the central referees
  3. The third, a missed penalty call when an Alajuelense player was tackled in the small box and not a peep

After that game, public outcry was at a level unknown to me, someone who has watched the game in Costa Rica for about 21 years. Yes, I am 21 years old and have watched almost every single game in my life. Never has there been so many calls to oust the head of referees than in this season. In the week after El Classico, the head Referee, the Fourth Referee (secretary), and one of the linesman were suspended without pay for a psychological test. Ironically, the only referee not to be suspended was formally part of the Ultras of Deportivo Saprissa. The secretary is most notable because he was the one that the Costa Rican Federation deemed worthy to make it to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Then the following game for both Alajuelense and Saprissa brought upon even more controversy. In the Alajuelense game there was one expulsion for believe this, trash talking to the opponent. You heard that right, one player got another yellow and subsequently red card due to going up to another player and began trash talking to him. Earlier in the game a goal was disallowed because the head referee thought that the goalkeeper was touched by an Alajuelense player, well he wasn’t. He was tackled by his own teammate and still disallowed the valid goal. So in the end of the match day, the Referee was suspended too and had to go to a psychological examination.

In the Saprissa game, it was pretty bad too. At first Limón FC, a small team was up 1-0 until a phantom penalty kick was called. The call was that the goalkeeper illegally approached the ball and tackled the Saprissa player. Well, the truth was in reverse, it was on the small box where the goalkeeper has the advantage but then Saprissa tied it. Later on the match, there was a legitimate penalty shot, but as the pattern continued, no call. So, the game ended in a draw 1-1, and at the end of the match it was announced that the head referee was suspended and had to take a psychological test.

Here is a video of the disputed call, green jerseys are Limón FC players, white with a purple bands  are Saprissa

Curtesy of Deportes Repretel via Lazaro Broitman

In a span of two weeks, five referees were suspended and had to take a psychological test. Where in the world has this happened before? I knew that Costa Rican referees were crap before but it became even more crap by the end of the season, and that is putting it mildly. The most amusing part of rounds 18 and 19, was that Alajuelense appealed the second yellow card and therefore eliminating the red of the player who came up and trash talked well at the beginning of the week it was ruled that it was not a yellow therefore that player can play the following game. But, later in the same week, I am not kidding the Disciplinary Committee pulled a mulligan, he was deemed suspended for a game.  The head of Referees, Carlos Batres, and the president of the Disciplinary Committee resigned that same week. Not the usual, “I want to go and not work again” kind of affair, but the “resign and save dignity or face being fired” kind of resigning.

Going forward the best model for a VAR is how the MLB and NHL do it. By and large, teams in Costa Rica do not have a ton of money if they have any, only three of the big four teams have the money to pay for a small office with multiple televisions and feeds. There could be a single or a group of four ex-referees, by that matter team affiliation can’t be a problem. Currently only Randall Poveda (Repretel), Jose Luis Mendes (Teletica), Walter Quesada are the best in diagnosing and seeing plays that are wrongly called. The two parenthesis are the current jobs that they have, Repretel broadcasts home games for Alajuelense, Municipal Grecia, Guadalupe FC, and Limón FC, Teletica broadcasts Deportivo Saprissa, Club Sport Cartagines, Asociación Deportiva Carmelita, and Municipal Pérez Zeledón, lastly Multimedios broadcasts, Asociación Deportiva San Carlos, Club Sport Herediano, Universidad de Costa Rica, and Santos de Guápiles.  The office is to be part of the Federation and to remain separate from the Referee committee. In addition this room needs to have a direct line to all 12 stadiums as well as the alternates like the National Stadium to make a review. The room would be outfitted with a secure line like an encrypted line to the headsets that all referees use. Or have a headset that is connected to a phone like it is in Baseball and have it like that.


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