Ahmed al-Aghbari, a referee in the Yemeni soccer league, used innovative video technology to make calls about football matches a full 12 years before FIFA finally endorsed its use during this year’s World Cup.

Al-Aghbari, former international referee and head of the Supreme Committee of Referees in Yemen, used video technology in an arbitration dispute during a Yemeni league game at May 22 Stadium in the southern city of Aden.

Al-Aghbari is the first known user of this technique. FIFA popularized the use of video assistant referee (VAR) technology during the 2018 World Cup in Russia after the approval of the FIFA Council on March 16, 2018.

The Yemeni referee, who began his career in 1998 as an assistant referee  received recognition for his accomplishments during the 2018 World Cup. A number of Arab media outlets, including Beinsport, hosted al-Aghbari, who anticipated the FIFA’s VAR endorsement. This technology helps referees in monitoring plays inside the penalty box. Despite criticism associated with its selective use by referees, it has greatly reduced arbitrary errors in making determinations on plays and penalties.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, al-Aghbari described his emotional reaction to Essam Shawali,  a famous sports commentator, who credited him as being the first one ever to rely on the video technology during a live match.

“It was a very great feeling, and it brought tears to my eyes,” he said.

“It vindicated something I had done spontaneously, and after 12 years it has become a reality.”

Al-Aghbari’s dream of the VAR technology being endorsed by FIFA came true. Millions in the Arab world watched the 2018 World Cup match between Saudi Arabia and Egypt, he said. “It vindicated something I had done spontaneously, and after 12 years it has become a reality.”

During a Yemeni League game between al-Tilal and al-Saqr in 2006,  al-Aghbari recounted that he had “counted a goal for al-Saqr from a free kick by Ali al-Amqi, and al-Tilal players protested that the ball had entered from the side net and settled into the goal.” However, the controversy inspired Al-Aghbari to rely on a means of arbitration that does not make mistakes.

“In order to put an end to the situation and to avoid mistakes and injustice, I stopped the game and asked the fourth referee to go back to the news van to check the target,” he said in a press statement. “The goal was canceled after confirming the error,” he added.  

Despite the fact that Yemen is presently ranked 133rd in the national football teams list, according to FIFA’s latest rating on August 16, 2018, the Yemeni team has made a name for itself as a pioneer of innovative technology.

The VAR technique underwent asynchronous tests in the Eredivise UEFA Championship during 2012-2013.  Officials at the IFAB Annual General Meeting in March 2016, decided to launch a two-year technical experiment. FIFA endorsed the technique officially for the first time in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.