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Are Video Assistant Referee (VARs) Good or Bad for English Football?

Are VARs Good or Bad for English Football

Over the coming six months, the Video Assistant Referee will become a regular feature of our television screens and back pages. The FA Cup, Carabao Cup and finally the Premier League will all begin utilising the technology during that time, as will the World Cup finals in Russia next year.

There’s no doubt that the three officials on the pitch need help; they always have. No official has previously called every decision correctly. An interesting documentary on BT Sport “Ref: Stories from the Weekend” underlined how much of the job is guesswork.

 

It should come as no surprise that decisions are given on the balance of probabilities. How can an official be expected to keep up with play when footballers cover the pitch at speeds close to Olympic sprinters? The only surprise is how many they get right under those circumstances.

VAR was decided upon as the best solution to the problem. The question for everyone involved in the game is whether it is the right answer. Until Europe’s major leagues and tournaments, along with the World Cup and other international championships, have run with VARs for several seasons, we won’t know.

Some object to technology in football, full stop. However, with clubs using more and more themselves in monitoring and assessing players, it’s only natural that we will see the authorities increase the on-pitch presence. Goal-line technology came first and to date, no major controversies have arisen. No ‘goals’ have proven to be phantoms nor has a ‘goal’ been ruled as not crossing the line.

The issue of speed might be better solved by having a referee in each half, along with two more assistant referees running the line each side of the pitch. That’s an extra six eyes on the action and enough to pick up most transgressions.

No experiments were carried out on any significant scale to see if that proved the case, not least because no solution could be found to the problem of subjectivity. Two referees will interpret the rules differently with a genuine concern about the even-handedness of this scenario.

But subjectivity hasn’t gone away with VAR’s. Now you have a second official off the pitch with the benefit of television replays interpreting the information from the screen. There’s no guarantee they will make the right decisions; a bad refereeing call is still a bad refereeing call no matter how many tv screens flicker in front of you.

Inevitably, as the VAR makes more decisions, the authority of the on-pitch official diminishes. It won’t be tough for a player to question the official’s decisions if the VAR is continually over-ruling them.

One thing we can’t allow is the match officials confidence to be sapped by the presence of the VAR. There can be no ‘copping out’ of decision-making; referees cannot avoid decisions in the four designated areas by thinking ‘that’s the purview of the VAR, let them make the call’; it can’t work with the abdication of responsibility.

With more eyes on the game, foul play from both teams might be expected to fall. No more will

there a ‘Hand of God’. If VAR works properly, purists will lose out on iconic moments in football’s history and in this instance, any England fan alive at the time won’t shed tears.

Where VAR may score highly in this sense is diving. ‘Simulation’ or whatever the authorities classify it as, is a blight. In the Premier League fixture between Burnley and Tottenham, Dele Alli attacked the Clarets penalty area. As he strode through, he hung out his leg so that it made contact with the defender rather than the Burnley player instigating a foul.

It’s diving pure and simple. Subtler than one where a forward deliberately dives over a leg or feigns contact but still diving. That con-trick can be eliminated if the VAR is brave enough to call it every time. Few match officials are, so it represents something of a watershed moment for the sport if the problem is solved.

Ultimately, the VAR will be judged on their accuracy of their calls. With the sums of money currently swirling around the game, not using the available technology almost borders on criminal. If we get the right decisions consistently, we’ll wonder why VARs weren’t introduced before.

While we all love to argue about whether the referee’s decision cost us the game, we would rather they got it right. VAR is aimed at taking the guesswork out of the equation and relieving the almost unrelenting pressure on referees.

Who knows where we will go from here. Maybe hearing from referees after a game? Let’s not push it too far; we took a long time to get to this moment in time…

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