by Alex Porter
What is VAR and why is it used in football? Video Assistant Referee is an assistant referee who reviews the decisions which are made by the referee using video footage and a headset for communication and verification. VAR was written into the rules of the game in 2018 after a number of trials in major competitions such as major league soccer, La Liga and the last Fifa World Cup in Russia last year. There are 4 specific decisions that can be reviewed by the VAR referee, most notably the ability to call whether there was any violation in the play to a goal such as offside or foul. Penalty decisions are reviewable also, as well as direct red card decisions and mistaken identity in awarding a ‘red’ or ‘yellow’ card. In order to overturn a referee's original decision there must be a ‘clear error’ but this can also be identified as a ‘clear and obvious error’.
|The foul which lead to
the controversial penalty |
in the EFL cup semi final first leg this year
So why has VAR become a potential irritation and problem in football for players, managers and supporters? In the FA cup and EFL cup this season in English football, VAR is being tested to see whether it should be used in the Premier League, England’s primary division. During its use so far this season it has caused many problems and wrong decisions appear to have been made. The main problem with VAR at the moment is that the review of the original decision given, is taking far too long to be made. In the worse case scenario, taking up to 15 minutes of the 90 minute game. Even though the time for the decision to be made has been shortened, it has still caused unnecessary hassle, especially as a considerable amount of the game could have been played in the time it took the VAR decision to be made. This is considerably annoying for many fans and players as when time is added after the 90 minutes has finished, it hasn’t taken into consideration the extra time the VAR decision took out of the game. I believe that to avoid this problem it may be better to stop the game clock altogether which is currently the procedure in rugby. This would therefore result in fewer complaints from fans and others about questions surrounding the amount of added time given (it could also be that referees should just add on the correct amount of added time anyway!).
It is not just the time that is taken out of the game that is the problem. When an offside decision is called, digital lines play a part in deciding whether a player is in an offside position when a pass has been initiated to them during a goal scoring opportunity. This was especially evident during the London derby clash between Tottenham and Chelsea in the EFL cup semi final first-leg this year when a penalty was awarded to Tottenham. The penalty was not given until the offside for the player who was fouled in the box was decided. The outcome was that the offside decision was dismissed and the penalty was given and dispatched by Harry Kane. This therefore presents difficulties when VAR makes a decision. The final result of the derby was 1-0 to Tottenham. After the match the Chelsea tactical analysis coach showed the press that the player’s body was in fact over the offside line which meant that the decision should not have been given. This incident has led many to question the use of VAR in the Premier League, until ‘the basics’ surrounding it, can be fixed. For example, this may include another camera specifically positioned to show offside decisions from another point of view and clear deflections made by players in the build up to the goal.
In addition, in situations where a red or yellow card is given, the decision made by the referee may be questionable as a replay may show that the foul that has been committed isn’t necessarily as serious as first seen. A player may have been given a ‘red card’ by the referee for dangerous play e.g. using two feet or possible injury to a player, but the player may in fact have won the ball or the other player may have ‘dived’ to get the result. These types of decisions can dramatically change the outcome of the game and result in an unfair numerical disadvantage of players.
It can be argued that although the decision to introduce VAR in football was initiated to make the game fair decision-wise, it has in fact in many ways, created the complete opposite.