Video assistant referees provoke a VAR-iety of opinions

VAR has proved controversial since it's introduction to the Premier League at the start of this season. Sesha Subramanian and Molly Greeves argue for and against the new technology.

multiple writers
23rd October 2019
YouTube, Sky Sports Football: Fans celebrate VAR having overturned a goal
VAR has proved controversial since its introduction to the Premier League at the start of this season. Whilst it has overturned several poor decisions criticism reached it's peak as the technology failed to overturn a stoppage-time penalty awarded to Sadio Mane for what appeared to many to be a blatant dive. Sesha Subramanian and Molly Greeves look at arguments for and against the technology.

Success: Sesha Subramanian

Remember the days when you had intense debates as to whether a striker's big right toe was offside when he ran on to a pass and scored? Or remember that time in a derby when your opponent's misfiring number nine did his best Tom Daley impression to win and score a heartbreaking ninetieth-minute penalty?

Surely I can't be the only one who has been through all that.

For all the noise about how VAR (Video Assistant Referee, for the uninitiated) is ruining the human aspect of the game, I would rather not have that sinking feeling of defeat every time someone gets a wrongful goal awarded to them. I would rather wait for a few minutes to have the right decision given in a game - even if it means sitting in a stadium cramped between two buff lads trying ever so hard to keep myself warm while nothing happens on the pitch. VAR has been an undoubted success story in football. It has kept teams honest and kept results (including major ones like a certain Champions League quarterfinal last year) from being changed completely on their head because of wrongful decisions.

The purpose of VAR was to bring in a fairer game and it has certainly done that. Defenders need to be more careful inside the box, strikers need to be more precise when timing their runs, and it has introduced a whole new dimension to what is considered physical football and what is considered an outright infringement of the laws of the game. It has reduced the impact of important calls that referees miss and, in a way, has reduced the pressures on the referee - especially in big games like derbies.

One criticism that VAR has received is that it tends to make everything worse when seen in slow motion and that a toe being offside is not much of an infringement. But rules are rules to be followed strictly in a game and they exist to ensure a fair game. VAR is only there to help referees do what they would have done anyway had they caught the infringement themselves. And yes, initially it felt like referees were happy to let VAR do the refereeing for them. But now, especially in the Premier League, there exists a fairly well-balanced system where the VAR does not interfere until and unless there is a legitimate reason to do so.

Yes, there are some deficiencies that need ironing out and VAR is not a perfect system. Yes, the post-match bar debate might be dead to some extent. All in all, however, I'd rather have a fairer game than feel like the walking dead for the rest of the week.


Failure: Molly Greeves

Last summer, the Fifa World Cup became the first football tournament to use a video assistant referee (VAR) for every match. After what many agree was the cleanest World Cup in decades, VAR is now being used in the Premier League and, though the season only started in August, it is already causing controversy.

The purpose of VAR is, obviously, to make referees' decisions more accurate and to make the game fairer overall. However, there have already been errors of judgement that VAR has missed: in early September, the BBC reported that four incorrect decisions had already failed to be overturned during Premier League matches.

The Premier League is still reportedly pleased with how the technology is working as the mistakes it has picked up on would have gone unpunished a year ago. So why are fans still so wary?

Football as a sport has always been dependent on the interpretation of the ref, and many people feel that with incidents such as penalties there is no “right” judgement. Goal line technology is simpler – the ball either crossed the line or it didn’t. However, whether a player is diving or committed a handball intentionally is much harder to determine no matter how many times you watch back the footage.

There are solid arguments both for and against the use of VAR, but it comes down to this: is the improvement of technical accuracy worth compromising the beauty of football? The word “beautiful” always struck me as overly romantic until I witnessed those moments myself: the visceral reaction of the fans after scoring a goal does feel beautiful, and those moments are taken away when entire stadiums are waiting around for the VAR to make a decision, a process that the fans don’t get to witness.

Of course, it makes sense to try to make matches as fair as possible. But football is about entertainment as well as sportsmanship, and so far, the fans are feeling left behind.

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