To say the introduction of Video Assistant Referee has been controversial is an understatement.
Commonly known as VAR, its brief stint in the Premier League has been nothing short of eventful. Ridiculous offside calls made on the basis of sheer millimetres, shocking handball decisions and referees taking an age to make seemingly simple decisions. There really is so much work to be done.
With VAR leading to controversies every week and some fans calling for it to be removed, it seems to be beyond repair – yet it can be salvaged for the future.
The concept of using video technology to enhance the game remains achievable, but meaningful changes and moderations have to be made. If the relevant authorities act soon and bring in the right reforms, we could soon be praising the introduction of VAR once again.
1. Implement a time limit
Far too often, a VAR decision kills the flow of the game, as referees take minutes to make seemingly obvious decisions. Football is supposed to be a fast-flowing game, but when it is regularly paused for the benefit of officiating, it has a direct impact on the players and fans alike.
The need for accurate decisions cannot be underestimated, yet a line must be drawn on how much time is excessive in making a decision. If players can be cautioned for time-wasting, why should officials be pardoned?
Referees should be restricted to a 60-second time limit to make a decision; from the moment they signal a VAR check until they display the final call. If no conclusion is reached within that minute, the original decision stands, because it therefore cannot have been a clear and obvious error.
2. No pixel-defined decisions
While the use of technology is greatly beneficial for football, it does come with its flaws. When VAR uses camera angles to better inform the onfield referee’s decision, it is noteworthy that the picture quality deteriorates the further zoomed in it is.
Considering there are 4K – and even 8K – cameras being used across elite sports, it is hard to understand why they are not present across the entire Premier League. If decisions are being based on a player’s pixelated toe being offside, it defeats the point of attempting to give a clear offside call.
Camera technology must be revamped, and decisions cannot be made based on a matter of pixels. The debate on clarity does not just come down to the actual human decision, but to the tools referees are provided with to be informed to make the most accurate decision possible.
3. Revision of “clear and obvious”
The dreaded words that have come to define VAR’s first few years – “clear and obvious”. VAR’s key purpose is to correct decisions which were clear and obvious errors, but that seems to have been disregarded from the start, depending on the referee and opinions of the authorities.
Not only does that definition limit what VAR can and cannot be used for, but it also sparks fierce debates on what “clear and obvious” actually means. It is a matter of subjectivity and opinion, and if we are to have just officiating at the highest level, that simply cannot be the case.
The “clear and obvious” tagline must either be revised, so as to provide clarity on what it actually means, or be completely scrapped. Decision-making must be impartial and consistent, and while that will not be possible with the issue of subjectivity, it is a relatively easy issue to fix.
4. More clarity in stadiums
Fans watching at home have the best seat in the house in current times, and that is certainly true when it comes to VAR. Broadcasters’ images show what the referee is seeing – multiple, clear angles of the incident in question, as well as keeping a fixed eye on the official in anticipation of their decision.
However, when it comes to those actually in the stadium, it could not be more different. Take Chelsea’s goalless draw against Manchester United last Sunday: players, substitutes and journalists had no idea if Callum Hudson-Odoi had handballed it, with many clambering up to the sole TV screen on sight in the bowels of Stamford Bridge’s East Stand to view the incident.
Stadium spectators need to know what is going on – the big screens must always be showing the same TV pictures seen on the universal feed. Everyone deserves to be seeing the same images and the same angles to make a decision, whether they are on the pitch, in the stands or in their homes.
5. New universal guidelines
Possibly the most significant matter in the global system, VAR is being used contrastingly across the world. The Swiss Super League and the Australian A-League have few issues in successfully utilising video technology, but for a multitude of reasons, the English Premier League has endured no such success.
Without consistency across all continents, countries and leagues, there cannot be any success for VAR on English shores. Why can an accidental handball be given in Italy, but ignored in England? It puts the supposed level-playing field in jeopardy.
The rules and regulations surrounding VAR must be clear and consistent around the world, with stronger clarification from FIFA and UEFA. There must be universal agreement on any guidelines, changes and enforcements, however major or minor they may be.
VAR is still in its teething process, but in such a fast-moving world and an advancing sport, it must be swiftly adapted. Video Assistant Referee can and will enrich football for many years to come, but if the game’s reputation is to be maintained, something must change.
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