Is this the future of football, a referee watching replays pitch-side?Raúl Pérez Lara

Vivi Way: video technology promotes fairness

Football without VAR is farcical. Inaccurate decisions are made, points are lost, managers and players lose their jobs. The technology to improve the reputation of the game is available, so why on earth hasn’t it been implemented earlier? 

Video technology promotes fairness in the game. There are only four match-changing instances in which VAR can be used: to check goals, penalties, straight red card offences, and cases of mistaken identity.  As recently as this weekend, the lack of video technology has caused outrage. Southampton fans were rightly incensed when Watford’s Abdoulaye Doucouré scored the equaliser with his hand.  VAR was not used; Southampton unfairly lost two points.  Players would also think twice about making a particularly rash challenge or diving for a penalty if they could get conclusively caught out every time. Simulation is cheating; it frequently changes results when unnoticed by the on-field referee. Even if, once reviewed, the outcome is inconclusive, this is not the fault of the technology but the vagueness of the rules.

The impact on the speed of the game is negligible. In Serie A, where VAR has been used this season, stoppage time is only 19 seconds longer on average than it was in the same league last season.  The standard of refereeing can only improve if referees can deliberate an incident quickly after a review. At present, if a referee makes an incorrect decision, they get lambasted publicly. Mike Dean awarded, wrongly, a penalty to West Brom against Arsenal, costing Arsène Wenger’s men two points and the Frenchman’s presence on the touchline for three games, as a consequence of his questioning of Dean’s integrity. VAR makes such mistakes avoidable which, as in this case, can escalate unnecessarily.

Le Hand of God: Thierry Henry infamously handled the ball against Ireland to secure France's qualification to the 2010 World Cup, following defeat against Italy in the 2006 final (pictured above)David Ruddell

Ultimately, VAR gives control back to the referee. It eliminates constant and somewhat aggressive approaches to the referee because video technology gives them the opportunity to justify their decisions to the players instantly on the field and potentially explain how their action breaks the rules.  The referee’s match reports after the game can provide further clarification but, ultimately, the camera never lies.

The system is not perfect. For instance, the incident under review should be shown on a big screen to involve spectators in the debate, just as in rugby. Nonetheless, it is much better than controversial results, cheating players, and the ceaseless scrutiny of referees. At the end of the day, football deserves the right result.

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To counter, one need only look to Newcastle great, Alan Shearer: “in other words, it’s shit?” tweeted the forward after the curtains were drawn back on VAR for the first time at the Confederations Cup last year. The much-anticipated magic ticket to flawless refereeing instead descended into chaotic farce: lengthy stoppages, mistaken identity and blatant blunders culminated in the Video Assistant Referee taking three minutes to inexplicably award a yellow card for Gonzalo Jara’s prison-worthy, let alone red card-worthy, elbow to the face of Timo Werner in the final. 

Far from improving the beautiful game, retrospectively returning to incidents will open a veritable Pandora’s box of problems. For example, when should video relays be employed? While tennis and cricket utilise regular breaks in play to review a decision, a football match may continue for several minutes before the ball goes out of play, rendering pivotal moments, including goals, as null and void when VAR brings proceedings back. If rectifying mistakes casts a wider shadow of doubt over the game, with players nervously anticipating a video intervention and second-guessing whether the current phase will matter, we risk a descent into hollow pointlessness.


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Even assuming that, despite the subjective nature of football’s rulebook – terms such as “excessive force” and the handball rule perpetually divide pundits and will likely conflict prospective VARs – hitches in the system are eventually ironed out, the net impact of innovation would still appear negative. In the recent League Cup tie between Chelsea and Arsenal both VAR reviews of penalty appeals were correctly dismissed. However, watching match referee Martin Atkinson deliberate for nearly two minutes, while fans twiddled thumbs, provided the perfect encapsulation of the adverse, fragmenting effects of technology on a game that prides itself on the fluency and tempo of play. After all, the most beneficial modernisations of recent years have been those, like the multi-ball system, that keep the flow of games unbroken. In this respect VAR is a giant leap in the wrong direction.

Replacing the sometimes fallible human aspect of the game with a technological Big Brother will not only negate the quick-fire entertainment value of a match by disrupting its momentum, it will also sanitise the debates that fill the dead-time surrounding games. Paul Ince blasted VAR because it “doesn’t give you anything to talk about down the pub,” and controversial refereeing decisions are part and parcel of English, if not world, football. As the old adage goes, decisions ultimately even themselves out and, moreover, add infinitely to the drama of the Premier League. To remove the passion, the catharsis that a perceived injustice evokes in fans would be, quite simply, to water down the furious, euphoric, tribal lifeblood of the game.