I’M old enough to remember the good old days when there were fewer contentious decisions in football matches. I refer of course to the time before the introduction of the Video Assistant Referee, or VAR as it’s more commonly known.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that VAR is not working and it’s getting worse.
I was a sceptic from the start but was prepared to give it a chance. Rugby has managed to integrate similar technology into the sport and done so in a way that is not too disruptive to the flow of the game.
That’s been made possible by using the system sparingly and to aid referees in circumstances that usually produce a clear cut decision – the grounding of the ball for a try or judging whether a pass went forward or not.
Football has so far been unable to strike anything like this reasonable balance with VAR.
It’s being used too often – when the original intention suggested that it would make only rare appearances – and it frequently adds an extra layer of interpretation that does little to lessen the contentiousness of decisions.
The VAR world that was sold to us was some sort of technological utopia: machine-like objectivity, efficiency, and speed. The machines know best. But instead we’ve entered a dystopia of delay, dysfunction, and disclaimer.
Behind the video is an assistant referee; a flawed human being like the rest of us, interpreting the necessarily subjective rules of the game.
Ultimately, the referee on the pitch still has to decide but they seem to be devolving more and more of their authority to the one in front of the screen.
Referees are becoming (over) reliant on VAR in a similar way that some people argue that pilots have come to rely too heavily on their autopilot systems.
If refs thought that VAR would increase their popularity, they were badly mistaken.
The situation has reached new levels of farce at this summer’s Women’s World Cup.
Guidelines for the tournament stated that goalkeepers will be booked if they come off their line before a penalty kick is struck. Halfway through the tournament the rule was suspended for shootouts but remains in place for penalties during normal or extra time.
Announcing the decision lawmakers said the rule risked “unfairly distorting” the outcome, especially if it resulted in a goalkeeper getting sent off during a penalty shootout. But “unfairly distorting” seems to me to sum up the experience of VAR so far.
Don’t get me started on last year’s World Cup final penalty incident again. Distortion is one word for it; I think I may have used a few more colourful ones when that shambolic decision was made (no, apparently I can’t let it go).
In response to the situation at the Women’s World Cup, the Premier League released a statement that VAR will not be used to judge goalkeepers coming off their line at penalties next season.
The league’s goalkeepers will be breathing a huge sigh of relief, especially as some of them seem to think the line they should be on is the six yard one.
Just like goalkeepers at penalties, what we’ve seen from VAR is encroachment. It’s been a case of mission creep to the point that it’s distorting the game as a whole.
Every goal these days seems to be celebrated with a slight hesitancy in case it gets called in for the dreaded review.
I haven’t yet been to a game at which VAR was being used. I don’t look forward to it.
Video killed the radio star; it looks like it’s coming for football next.
Craig Wilkie. Football Writer. Football Coach. Football Fan.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Star