A-League final VAR 'could have watched TV feed' to avoid blunder

It will come as cold comfort to Newcastle fans, but the A-League says it will introduce back-up technology to guard against a repeat of the “catastrophic” VAR failure that blighted Saturday’s grand final.

And A-League boss Greg O’Rourke told Fairfax Media on Tuesday that Saturday’s VAR officials had since conceded they could have sought Fox Sports footage when they lost half their camera angles in a software crash.

System failure: James Donachie was offside but the goal, in the end the winner, stood.

“The question you ask about the Fox Sports feed is potentially one of quick thinking,” O’Rourke said. “In hindsight, they all said we could have left our room and gone to Fox.”

O’Rourke said video assistant referee Craig Zetter had access to some camera angles but not the crucial sideline view and Fox feed which showed James Donachie was clearly offside before heading back across goal for Barbarouses to score the only goal of the decider against Newcastle.

“The video-capture device failed. There’s two in the room. One failed. It’s a catastrophic software failure. It locked,” he said. “When they were there and they were working through it, it was just like, ‘Is that all the cameras you’ve got?’ Because they had some, they were able to go, ‘Is that all the cameras you’ve got? Well, I don’t have any vision that suggests otherwise.’

“The ones they needed included the Fox broadcast feed and also the sideline. Actually, when the live feed came back up, the assistant VAR goes, ‘Hold on a second – that looked like it was offside in the replay that I just saw on Fox’, which was after the game had restarted. There was nothing they could do about it. Then they called that camera up again and ran the replay once the software had rebooted, and then they determined that it was offside.”

O’Rourke said the FFA had sent a preliminary report about the incident to the International Football Association Board, which oversees the laws of the game. The technical failure had attracted “global attention” in the lead-up to the World Cup, which will also use VAR technology.

“The first, preliminary report has already been sent to IFAB, so it is a document that people are very, very interested in globally," he said. “We’re working with IFAB. The Bundesliga, who are also in the VAR world, also want to talk to us. There’s no doubt the software crashed. There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind. The conspiracy theorists would suggest otherwise, but there’s no doubt.

“It’s been 100 per cent confirmed that the software crashed. The conspiracy theorists out there believe – I don’t know what they believe – but it’s just one of these one-in-a-million things that the software crashes. People are calling for me to sack myself. I understand the frustration, because I have a high level of frustration that the amount of time and effort and investment and money we’ve put into the system and then on the very biggest day of the year it fails.

“There’s nobody more frustrated about it than me. But in pragmatic terms it’s the same as if anyone’s computer locked up in any office on any day. A lot of people don’t know why it happens; they just go control-alt-delete, start again and move on. And that’s what these guys did. They just reset the software, but the consequences of going down is the issue for our game and our brand, and also for the brand of Hawk-Eye.”

Winners: Melbourne Victory claimed the A-League champions trophy under a cloud of controversy.

Hawk-Eye’s Australian office in Victoria would not comment and referred the Herald to the FFA statement. The company has an operator in the VAR room at each A-League game to call up camera angles for the video referee. O’Rourke said Hawk-Eye had forwarded a crash dump report to its parent company in the UK to try to figure out what went wrong.

“We’ve done our bit. We’ve interviewed all our people. There’s also a video and audio recording of that room, so no one can say this didn’t happen, because it’s all there. We can see the reaction of the operator when it crashes. We can hear what he says about it.”

He said Zetter had followed protocol by staying in the VAR room during the drama, but this was one of the issues the league would examine to help prevent another failure.

“They actually stuck to protocol, which effectively is to stay in a closed room. But now… all those conversations have started: should they be able to leave the room, should there be a back-up server. One of the [things] we will put in place when we continue this VAR system will be to have the broadcast footage wired and sent separately to the VAR room.”

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