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MLS commissioner Don Garber frustrated with how FIFA limits use of technology

At SXSW, MLS commissioner Don Garber expressed frustration over how FIFA limits technology use.

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AUSTIN – MLS will look to fully roll out the Video Assistant Referee system after the All-Star game in August, enabling a referee with access to video replays to be able to make suggestions to the official on the pitch on game-changing plays. But for fans at the stadium, they won’t be able to see on the scoreboard the angles that the referee is looking at in order to debate and react.

MLS commissioner Don Garber described Saturday at the South by Southwest Conference how expansion team owner Peter Guber of the Los Angeles Football Club reacted at a board meeting when it was explained to him how this type of fan engagement would not be allowed because of FIFA.

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“That’s the most ridiculous thing I ever heard,” Garber recalled Guber saying. “How could you do (VAR) and not tell people about this?”

Guber is a veteran Hollywood executive and team owner who has spoken passionately and executed his visions of building experiences for fans of the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Dodgers. FIFA apparently might not be as forward-thinking.

“We’re going to really struggle with sort of the local way we consume sports in that we’re not going to be able to talk to the crowd about it,” Garber said. “We’re not going to be able to put the videos up on the big screen because FIFA has issues with that.”

Asked about the hardest part of his job, Garber lamented how he was the only commissioner in domestic sports who was not actually in charge of the sport, as FIFA and the International Football Association Board have control over the limits of what can be implemented, especially when it comes to technology.

“It always frustrated me that they did not understand how technology is sort of allowing the fan, the player, our technical people to get better and yet you can’t use it in the games to actually make the experience better,” Garber said, citing his time spent with FIFA while serving on the U.S. Soccer Board of Directors.

“That’s really frustrating. We don’t have the ability to do what we want to do on the field or with our players in technology because those in Zurich tell us we can’t. And if (NHL commissioner) Gary Bettman wants to change the rules of hockey and put more officials on the ice, he does it.”

While MLS will be one of the first soccer leagues to implement VAR, Garber said the system that has been tested in the preseason and has made a “dramatic impact” still will come with issues. Referees initiate reviews, with coaches unable to do so.

“It’s not going to be without big problems because it’s still as a referee making a judgment,” Garber said. “Now it’s just assisted with video.”