Cracks in the system as Premier League prepares for video revolution

Aspiring sports journalist James Powers gives his view on the arrival of video assistant referees (VAR) in the Premier League next season – and how technology may not give us all the answers we’re looking for.

Thursday, 9th May 2019, 5:50 pm
Updated Friday, 10th May 2019, 12:55 am
Referee Enrique Caceres watches the VAR during the group B match between Iran and Portugal at the World Cup last year. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

In a world full of amazing new technology to advance to the living of humans, footballing bodies seem desperate to incorporate some of it into their competitions.

Their latest attempt, VAR, simply illustrates the disconnect between fans and the people who run football.

VAR seemed unopposable in theory; an aid to the matchday officials to rid clear and obvious errors and dispel incidents where a refereeing mistake can cost a team the game.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

So no more complaining about referees and hopefully it would destroy hatred and abuse towards referees. It benefits all parties.

However, as more and more trials of the technology take place, the more VAR shows it isn’t as simple as just giving referees a helping hand.

VAR is there to rule out clear and obvious errors. So what is clear and obvious?

An incident can only be reviewed if it is four 'match-changing situations' - goals, penalty decisions, straight red cards and mistaken identity.

If any of these four incidents happen, the video assistant referee (after viewing the incident back himself) will suggest a review to the referee if he believes the original decision is “clearly” and “obviously” incorrect.

However, that is open to opinion meaning decisions can still be disputed, simply exacerbating the original problem VAR was put in place to fix.

The main argument put against VAR by fans is how it affects them and the atmosphere within the stadium.

Firstly, VAR decisions take, when done quickly, either side of a minute for the video assistant referee to replay the incident, suggest a review and for the referee himself to review the incident thoroughly enough to come to a conclusive verdict.

In this time, the roaring atmosphere created by the incident has completely died as the fans watch on anxiously.

The fans' anxiety would not be helped by the lack of knowledge they have of what is happening.

Punters only know that a review is taking place, they do not know what is being reviewed nor do they know why an incident is being reviewed.

This leaves fans completely in the dark until a decision is made and even then it could be unclear why a referee has come to that conclusion.

Technology in football can be a neat addition to improve the game.

Goal-line technology is a key example that technology definitely has a place in football - when it can successfully correct incorrect decisions with immediate effect.

As it stands, there does not appear to be a better alternative to VAR or any way to find a compromise between keeping the fast, fluid tempo of football while still having a system that can prevent poor refereeing errors.

A possible step in the right direction would be to have the review transparent within stadiums, allowing fans to view the process in full but this would only solve one of a handful of issues VAR presents.

Despite all these cracks in the system, VAR is due to be used throughout the Premier League for the 2019-20 season - and how that unfolds will be a key factor on the future of technology in football.