Referees ● May 09, 2017

Going VAR with His Family’s Support


It was a quiet afternoon at Changi Airport Terminal 3 earlier today, except for a pocket of activity somewhere near check-in row 6. A group of more than 20 people had gathered to extend their well wishes to Muhammad Taqi bin Jahari, who was scheduled to travel to Seoul, South Korea, for the upcoming FIFA Under-20 World Cup Korea Republic 2017. The group included family members, close friends and colleagues, and members of the footballing community.

While the biennial international age-group competition – which has previously featured the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero and Paul Pogba – will only kick off on 20 May, Taqi and other Video Assistant Referees (VARs) were scheduled to arrive in Seoul today and undergo further training and preparations.

Mr Lim Tong Hai, a Football Association of Singapore (FAS) Council Member, said: “This is an excellent opportunity for Taqi. VARs is a new position which FIFA has been experimenting with and it speaks volumes for Taqi to be involved in this way. The FAS has been supporting Taqi and I think in this instance he has done himself proud and will fly the Singapore flag high for us. We wish him the very best in the upcoming tournament.”

Including the pre-tournament training, the father of two may be away for over a month. One can sense that despite his strong passion for the game, he also has to grapple with being away from his family for long periods of time.

“They’re positive about my appointment. But it’s sad that I have to leave them because I’ve been away on and off for matches and tournaments,” said Taqi, who has two sons aged three and one.

Taqi’s wife is extremely supportive of her husband’s decision to pursue what he terms as an “unconventional path” in his career. Madam Masayu Ismail said: “I feel very proud and satisfied for him as his wife. He trains hard almost daily, going out once the sun rises. He is not only consistent but also hard on himself. I’m happy for him because he is one step closer to his dream. Of course, as his wife, I have mixed feelings. It takes me some time to absorb the fact that my husband will be away for so long. But it is part of the sacrifice I have to make as his wife to support him.” 

With the recent confirmation by FIFA that VARs will be used at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, the spotlight will now be on the upcoming world youth tournament where groups of VARs will be appointed to support the referee on match days. VARs will play a key role in reviewing major decisions, including goals, penalty incidents, red cards and cases of mistaken identity.

Rated by many as one of the top Asian referees today, Taqi is the only official from Southeast Asia who will be on duty at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup.

The 30-year-old, who took charge of the FIFA World Cup 2018 Asian Qualifiers between Iran and China, as well the Japan vs Saudi Arabia game in recent months, will also be the youngest VAR at the upcoming tournament.

Taqi had his first taste of what being a VAR would entail at a special FIFA seminar held from 3-7 April in Florence, Italy. Organised for referees on the shortlist for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the seminar also included training for VARs.

When asked about the training and VAR technology, Taqi’s enthusiasm was clear as he outlined the roles that the VARs will play and the various ways that VARs can assist referees in making better decisions during the matches.

He brought up the positive example of the friendly between France and Spain played on 28 March this year, where VAR technology was used twice – to disallow France’s Antoine Griezmann’s goal after an offside was spotted, and to award Spain’s goal by Gerard Deulofeu which was initially flagged as offside.

“In semi-final matches in tournaments for example, these decisions may be very crucial. Without the VAR, teams that deserve to go through may not go through, and vice versa. But because of the correct decisions made with the help of the VAR, the teams that deserve to play in the final will make it,” Taqi noted.

However, he acknowledged that the new technology also brings its own set of challenges.

Taqi explained: “Honestly, being a VAR is much tougher. For referees, you are on the field of play – if you see something, you can make the decision on the spot. But for VARs, you may perhaps see the situation in the penalty area where the referee didn’t blow for the penalty kick when it’s a clear penalty kick.

“In 10-15 seconds, as a VAR, we have to find all the possible angles of the situation. The lesser the time taken, the more effective it is. We also have to give the correct decision to the referee. Even though we have the various video angles, some angles can be unclear. The three VARs officiating at the match also have to come to a unanimous decision.”

Taqi also pointed out possible issues of miscommunication between VARs and referees from different parts of the world, as well as the prospect of technical glitches affecting communication.

The FIFA Under-20 World Cup will be a first for all the VARs in their new role. While Taqi shared that he felt he still needed more practice, he is looking forward to assisting the referee to make the right decisions and benefit the game.

“At the end of the day, as referees and VARs, we want to help the game as much as possible and ensure that the best team goes into the next round,” he said.

But he recognised that what he is doing is a boon not only for the referees in Singapore, but also the football fraternity as a whole.

“Apart from it being an achievement for myself, it’s good for the Referees Department and the football fraternity, because it proves that football in Singapore has the opportunity to be in world tournaments. I believe if the referees can believe we can achieve that, one day our youth teams will be there as well,” the affable Taqi concluded.

Everyone at FAS wishes Taqi success at the upcoming FIFA Under-20 World Cup.