Football fans are again questioning the use of VAR after a terrible weekend of decisions in the Premier League, which saw big calls go the wrong way in a series of matches.
Some supporters have never taken to the use of the video technology in the game but with controversy in several matches over a couple of days it is fair to say VAR reached a new nadir.
Referees’ body the Professional Game Match Officials Board even acknowledged incidents in the game at Chelsea and Newcastle were mistakes – a crumb of comfort to the teams involved.
With fans, players and managers frustrated by VAR, is it time for a major rethink of the tech?
‘Clear and obvious’
One of the most frustrating aspects of VAR’s use in the Premier League is how the scope of the technology appears to change all the time.
Initially, fans were told that VAR would be restricted for overturning “clear and obvious” errors, but the fact these are still being made, even using the technology, suggests it is failing badly.
The nature of football means that a lot of decisions are subjective, rather than objective. This means two referees can see the same incident in very different ways, while the angle of the camera for replays of a tackle, for example, can change how it seems to have been executed.
Even offside, which is more black and white than other offences, has been controversial. Goals have been disallowed for marginal offsides in the build up, with strikers deemed to be offside by an armpit, a toenail or a nose hair. The decision to disallow Alexis Mac Allister’s fine blockbuster strike for Brighton may have been technically correct, but taking five minutes to rule out a goal of the season contender was an extremely unsatisfactory outcome for ‘the beautiful game’.
And it is worth pointing out that even non-VAR technology is not faultless. In the last round of Championship fixtures, Huddersfield Town were denied an equalising goal in a game against Blackpool when the goal-line technology failed to recognise that the ball had crossed the line.
Huddersfield defender Yuta Nakayama had forced the ball beyond goalkeeper Dan Grimshaw but no signal was made to the referee’s watch, so the official, John Busby, resumed play.
Can VAR be fixed?
Various suggestions have been made to improve the use of VAR in the Premier League.
A time limit has been mooted, indicating that if a decision cannot be reached in a certain period then the initial on-field call made by the referee should stand. While that might cut the waiting around that is one of the most frustrating aspects of VAR, fans and players are unlikely to be satisfied with decisions going to VAR if it does not even lead to the right outcome in the end.
Giving more power to the officials in the VAR booth could also eliminate some delays. When the on-field referee is sent to review a decision on the monitor at the side of the pitch, it almost always results in the official overturning their initial decision. This leads many to wonder what is the point of the sideline monitor, though Michael Oliver did stick with his original call when advised to take a look at one contentious Premier League incident during the same weekend.
One change that is a must is for the fans inside the stadium to be given more information. Screens at Premier League games are only used to inform fans a review is taking place. Details on what this is for are usually brief and fans are left waiting for what can be several minutes.
This might prove to be a dramatic spectacle for television, but if those watching at home are able to watch reviews of the incident, it stands to reason fans at the games should too. There is a reluctance to show controversial incidents on big screens inside stadiums but it is unfair for fans paying a significant amount of hard-earned cash to attend games to be out of the loop.
Similarly, it is unclear why football cannot follow other sports like cricket and rugby and have a video referee’s comments over replays broadcast so decisions can be explained in real-time.
Another issue is the quality of the officials in the Premier League. The controversial Mike Dean hung up his whistle over the summer, with Jon Moss, Kevin Friend and Martin Atkinson also retiring. While all four referees had their detractors, they were among the most experienced officials in the game and have left a significant shortfall in the pool of Premier League referees.
Ultimately, like it or not, VAR seems to be here to stay. But after one of the worst weekends imaginable for the technology, surely it is time to consider significant changes to its usage.