Selling home games, not passing on VAR, Brazil's most deplorable decision
When Brazil's first division clubs met this week to organise the coming campaign, one of their decisions made all the headlines.
By 12 votes to 7, with one abstention, they chose not to introduce VAR, the video referee, in this year's first division, which kicks off in April. It was thought that Brazil would be among the pioneers in the use of this technology. There is certainly a strong lobby for it in the local media. But for the clubs, there is not enough money on the table. The clubs were upset that they, and not the Brazilian Football Association (the CBF), would have to foot the bill. And so things have been pushed back to 2019.
This has given rise to a storm of media outrage. But another decision taken by the clubs is much more deplorable. Going back on a resolution they passed in 2017, the clubs will be allowed to play five home games away from their city.
In effect, they will be able to sell them to other locations.
Football has existed for well over a century without VAR, and, if necessary, is very capable of going on without this technological innovation. Moreover, as has been seen in those places where it has been implemented, VAR is no cure all panacea. There have been teething troubles, and the question of exactly how best to use the new resource is still waiting for definitive answers. There will probably be more incorrect refereeing decisions, but the integrity of the Brazilian Championship will not be infringed by the absence of VAR.
The integrity of the league system is infringed, however, by the clubs' capacity to sell more than 25 percent of their home games. A league system works on the basis that everyone plays everyone else home and away. Having met all opponents under these conditions, the team with the most points has every right to consider itself a worthy champion.
But this level playing field is tilted when not every team has to make the same trips, and visit the same stadiums. The procedure in past years has been for cash-strapped smaller clubs to transfer their home games to places where the rival fans will be in the majority. Effectively they are trading home advantage for money. And this distorts the whole ethic of a league programme, since their opponents are no longer playing them at home and away.
The market for this transfer of games has grown considerably with the construction of stadiums for the 2014 World Cup. As predicted beforehand, some of these grounds outside the heartlands of the Brazilian game are laying idle for much of the time. The most glaring example is Brasilia, the most expensive of the 2014 stadiums, constructed in a city without a mass appeal football team.
Many in Brazil defend the practice of transferring games on this very basis -- that it gives stadiums in Brasilia and elsewhere a much needed purpose.
But this is short-term thinking. There is only one way that the stadiums in Brasilia, Manaus, Cuiaba and so on can be viable -- local teams have to grow sufficiently to be able to fill them every fortnight. And it is unquestionably harder for these humble local sides to gain a mass support if every few months their territory is invaded by big, traditional, glamorous clubs from elsewhere in the country.
Allowing the clubs to transfer matches to the highest bidder, then, infringes the integrity of the league and harms the long term prospects of expensively built stadiums. It is an error far more significant that the decision to postpone the introduction of VAR for a year.
Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.