With exactly one month until the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ gets underway, FIFA Deputy Secretary General Zvonimir Boban discusses various topics about the world finals, including his own personal memories of competing in the tournament, expectations for Russia as the host nation and the use of Video Assistant Referees (VAR) for the first time in the competition’s history.
Boban played in the successful Croatia squad that became one of the standout storylines from France 1998. Croatia were playing in their very first World Cup as an independent nation and managed to finish in third place. Now in an entirely different role, Boban knows exactly what a World Cup means and how it can impact an individual’s life.
From your own experience as a player in 1998, what goes through the mind of a player a month before the FIFA World Cup?
Zvonimir Boban: During the preparation time, I was full of concentration, full of emotions. You’re preparing yourself for something that’s always historic, whether you’re defeated or you win. Whatever happens, you’re taking part in one piece of history. We’re going to live a part of history in Russia for our sport. I’m excited but let’s say I’m more serious about the job I have to perform obviously! (laughs) We have an incredible partner and the Russian state is fully committed to running a great World Cup.
What are you expecting to see in Russia at the FIFA World Cup?
The World Cup is always something special, particularly emotional and unique, so there will be the underdogs who will do something great for their country, probably from small countries—I hope that it will be my Croatia obviously! What we’ll see there is something you can’t see or feel in other sports. It’s all the world in one place with a million or billion colours we might see with incredible passion for their countries, their teams and players. It’s not easy to describe the World Cup.
What do you expect from the Russians in terms of hospitality and atmosphere?
I’m sure that in every sense when there is one competition and a big, incredible gathering like the World Cup, I believe we’ll see the best in a human sense, a hospitality sense, a football sense and in a cultural sense, too. In terms of security, for sure even flies without a Fan ID will not pass certain areas! I believe we’ll enjoy this World Cup completely.
For the first time in the FIFA World Cup, the VAR will be used. What is the philosophy of VAR?
The philosophy of VAR is about searching for more fairness in the game. Yes this is a heavy word, but we want more honesty in the game, for more correct results, for protecting the institution of football, protecting the referees. Referees are human beings, they’re not only referees. We also want to protect the destinies of players and to protect the investment made for many years that can vanish in one second because of the referee’s human eye—the referee’s a human being who can commit errors. What we’re doing is a clear sign of something that should have been done a long time ago.
The philosophy is maximum benefit with minimum interference. This is something we’re achieving in competitions in which VAR is used. I believe we’re doing something great. It’s a big step for football. FIFA together with the International Football Association Board (IFAB) have really been developing this system from scratch. The results have been outstanding. I can imagine for the public in Russia that some fans from some nations where VAR is not used will be surprised sometimes, but I believe they’ll understand and be informed about VAR if they’re coming to Russia. They can accept that this is something great for our game. At the end of the day, we are protecting the game, and this is the greatness of the VAR system.
How will VAR decisions be communicated to fans in stadiums during the 2018 FIFA World Cup?
We’ve developed this system of communication before in the stadiums. This is why you see the referee make the screen signal with his hands in the moment when he goes for a review. Our technology innovation department are doing a fantastic job. Everything in this World Cup will be displayed on the big screens in the stadiums, including the scenes, images and footage from the moment that the review is addressing. Also, there’ll be clear messaging on the screens indicating the decisions made through VAR. Everything will be shown on the big screens. In terms of communication, this means a lot for the people in the stadium.
What are your thoughts on how technology might influence the flow of the game?
We did an analysis with Belgian university KU Leuven and out of 1,000 matches VAR actually affects the play just one per cent for the game. It’s almost nothing. If you think about the fluidity of football, everyone thinks football is a very fluid game, but it’s not such a fluid game. At the last World Cup the ball was in play for 57 and a half minutes (on average). So already we are somehow losing 35 minutes or even more. We lose time on free-kicks, but for us this is a normal use of time. But it’s not actually normal that we’re losing nine minutes on average for free-kicks during a game, seven minutes on throw-ins, five-and-a-half on goal kicks and four-and-a-half on corner kicks.
We’re losing so much time on other things, so we should then be using 40 or 50 seconds to see if a game-changing error has been made, which can change the destinies of players, and not only the outcome of one game. It takes about one minute maximum for one review (on average). In a lot of cases it will be just 20 or 30 seconds. Our referees are the best referees in the world and they are so well trained. They’ve attended many workshops and have taken part in at least four FIFA tournaments. The majority also referee in competitions that are already using VAR, so we have top people for the top competition. I’m really confident that everything about VAR will be perfectly understood at the World Cup.
What is your message to the fans?
My message is very simple: just go to the World Cup to enjoy football, enjoy Russia and enjoy the World Cup. It will be a special moment in their lives for sure.