VAR delivering as promised, but review of one aspect needed

VAR delivering as promised, but review of one aspect needed

Saturday, January 18, 2020

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Given the level of opposition to the use of video assistant referee (VAR) technology in football, we had expected some amount of controversy to hover over on-field decisions by officials.

We see that playing out now in England's Premier League, especially as it relates to offside decisions which have denied some teams vital goals in that most-competitive environment.

In the most recent development, referees have been told to use monitors at pitch side to make a final ruling on red-card decisions.

According to British media reports, referees were reminded at a recent meeting that they should go to the referee review area when the VAR suggests upgrading a yellow card to a red, or downgrading a red to a yellow.

That advice, it appears, has its foundation in the fact that so far this season no Premier League referee has gone to review a decision using the monitor, instead they have relied on the VAR.

In response, legendary football Manager Mr Arsene Wenger has been reported as expressing concern that the monitors were not being used regularly.

“The referees on the field are there because they have the experience and they are confident,” said Mr Wegner, who is now head of Fifa's global football development. “Let's not forget that it is video assistance for the referee, so [the VARs] are not the ones who should make the decision but the ones who help the referee to make the right decision.”

We have repeatedly argued in this space that technology, properly utilised, adds credibility to on-field decisions by officials and erases doubt in the minds of spectators, thus preventing the anger and bitterness usually triggered by calls that are considered controversial.

Football fans will recall that VARs were successfully used in the last World Cup in 2018 and, before that, in the Confederations Cup and the Under-20 World Cup. It is also being used in Italy's Serie A, the German Bundesliga, Major League Soccer in the USA, the Portuguese Primera Liga, the K League in South Korea, and Australia's A-League.
There is, therefore, evidence that the system, if properly utilised, can work, even as we are seeing more disputes relating to offside calls in the Premier League. For instance, last December Norwich, Brighton, Sheffield United, Wolves, and Crystal Palace all had goals disallowed by marginal VAR rulings amid doubts over whether the technology was accurate enough to make such fractional calls.

Managers and players have also questioned whether the technology should not be used to reverse on-field decisions that appear correct to the naked eye. This view has received support from Mr Lukas Brud, general secretary of the International Football Association Board (IFAB).

According to Mr Brud, IFAB guidance that VAR should only be used to correct clear errors also applies to offside.
“Clear and obvious still remains — it's an important principle,” he said. “There should not be a lot of time spent to find something marginal. If you spend minutes trying to identify whether it is offside or not then it's not clear and obvious, and the original decision should stand.”

Quite frankly, some of the offside decisions we have seen since the start of this English Premier League season have been, to say the least, ridiculous. Players have been judged to be offside by an arm, shoulder, or worse, toe.

It is clear that there needs to be some review of that aspect of the system, but we are in no doubt that VAR is delivering what it had promised — greater levels of accuracy to vital decisions that not only impact results, but economic outcomes for teams in what is really big business.


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