In cricket and rugby, the review system has slipped seamlessly into the way on field decisions are reviewed and because it was so successful in those two sports it was championed widely by all the key stakeholders in football, who felt that so many mistakes were being made by officials that it simply had to be brought in and all would be fine. After all, goal line technology allowed for the referee to make an instant decision by a quick look at his watch so what could go wrong with the introduction of a Video Assistant Referee (VAR)?
It was heralded at its introduction as a system that would be used only to correct clear and obvious errors made by the officials. As use of the system has evolved, it is now far removed from how it was originally envisaged to be used. In many instances, it is used to persuade the referee to reverse his initial decision. A multiple of lines are drawn and if a toe is beyond the opponent offside is given.
In the Premier League fixture between Liverpool and Manchester City, the referee Anthony Taylor decided from the start to let the game flow and he allowed a number of dubious challenges to go unpunished. It made for compelling viewing. He initially waved on a tussle between Fabinho and Erling Haaland but when the incident was slowed down and viewed from every angle, he was persuaded to review the incident on the touchline screen and reversed his initial decision.
During the Champions League match between Tottenham and Sporting, it took four minutes to rule out a goal for offside. If it takes that long, then the premise that it is correcting a clear and obvious error is a total nonsense. Of course, Spurs fans and management were up in arms at the decision but if the goal had been ruled out at the other end, I think we all know there would be a very different reaction.
One of the important elements of football that makes it the exciting game it is, is the enjoyment of that moment when players and fans can celebrate a goal together. But fans now have to wait to see if VAR is about to rule out the goal. Consequently, the moment is lost, and half the time fans in the stadium have no idea what VAR is reviewing as they can’t hear the discussion taking place as is the case in other sports.
Used properly, VAR can enhance the decision-making processes but if it takes four minutes to decide if a mistake has been made then something has gone badly wrong. It should not be about rigid lines and analysis of a pass five minutes before the goal. Used as it is, it is eating away at the core emotion of the game. Mistakes will be made but that is part of the game.
In the Charlton v MK Dons match earlier this month, a penalty was awarded for the first goal when the tackle was clearly outside the penalty area. A free kick was then awarded for the second goal on the edge of the penalty area when the tackle was clearly not a foul. But these things have a way of evening themselves out over the season and of course there is no VAR system in the EFL.
In my view, VAR should not be about trying to have a 100% accurate scientific exercise of drawing and re-drawing lines. It was never meant to be that and it is damaging the core of what football is all about. As fans do we celebrate the goal or just look at the screen before we react?
Technology is here to stay and used properly as with the goal line system it can help the officials immensely and in that case the decision is immediate, but football’s governing bodies need to re-think how VAR is used currently because there is nothing wrong with the technology, it is all about how it is being applied.