So VAR, not good: how to fix the technology in 2020 3 years ago

So VAR, not good: how to fix the technology in 2020

It was meant to solve arguments, not cause them.

VAR hasn’t been a success. It’s been the main topic of conversation after every weekend of Premier League action, a lightning rod for football purists to bemoan the fact that once again ‘the game is gone’ and has provided endless words for football writers since August.

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Allow us a few more.

The technology works, when implemented properly. Watching football outside the Premier League will tell you that. It’s still not perfect, but it’s a hell of a sight better than what is seen week after week across the water. It doesn’t need to be scrapped, it needs to be reformed, changed and adapted. There are a few, pretty simple, alterations that would make VAR a hell of a sight better than it currently is. And they need to be implemented before it's too late.

Involve The Fans

Football fans can be trusted with knowledge. A shock, I know. There’s nothing worse than being in a stadium and left in a multi-minute vacuum, without replays and without any indication as to what’s going on in the VAR bunker in an undisclosed, secure location. Show it on the screens. Make it part of the occasion, increase the drama. Allow fans to cheer or boo the event, to draw the referee’s attention to something and to let their voices be heard. Rugby stadiums play out heartbeat sound effects, the referee walks over to the screen, the fans can see what is happening. It seems like a no-brainer, but it’s a problem that anyone who attends games in Lansdowne Road or Croke Park will be well used to. "Controversial" incidents don’t get shown. Personally, I get more angry by not being shown what’s happening, not by a simple replay that will probably show that fans’ anger is unjustified. The fact that some stadiums (Old Trafford, Anfield) don’t have this capacity may prevent this from happening. But, still, show us what’s going on.

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Pitchside Screens

Speaking of which, can the referees actually use the screens on the touchlines? Why are we making the referee the bearer of bad news, setting them up as the messenger to be shot, diluting their authority? A referee now has the spectre of a faceless Big Brother in their ear permanently telling them the final decision. They now have the routine of calmly telling a roaring player “it will be checked”, before running to the other end of the pitch and hoping they don’t have to point to the penalty spot with all the authority of a bouncer in a Dublin nightclub tapping a broken earpiece and saying their hands are tied, you're not getting in... Put the power back in the referees’ hands. They make the calls.

Linesmen’s Flags

No flagging for an offside unless it’s clear as day. There have been too many incidents this season, perhaps most notably Jonjo Shelvey’s goal against Sheffield United, where an eerie calm falls over an attacker bearing down on goal and defenders and goalkeepers don’t want to legitimize the ‘attack’ and so go through the motions until the VAR check. You can’t rewrite players’ instincts to that extent, so make it somewhat easier on them by keeping the flag down. It’s the equivalent of a referee blowing a whistle for a foul and then allowing it be played out while half the players have stopped. Take the flagging out of the game in those instances, let VAR do the work.

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Ask the Hard Questions

This goes back to putting more power into the referee’s hands, and once again comes back to the rugby model. The scope and power of VAR needs to be limited by what the referee wants it to do, on certain occasions. In rugby, this is done by the question asked by the referee when the TMO is called into action. For example, if a rugby ref wants to work out if a try has been scored, he can ask a few questions;

  • Any reason I cannot award a try?
    • Basically, I think it’s a try and unless you show me clear and irrefutable evidence that it’s not, I’m giving a try.
  • But for the act of foul play – probable try or no try?
    • There’s been a foul in the build up, if that didn’t happen would a try have been scored?
  • Try: yes or no?
    • Lads, I’ve absolutely no clue what happened there so this one’s over to you

These need to be adapted for VAR, and football, in order for a referee to own decisions and use the real-time, up close and personal view they have. Otherwise, why bother having a referee at all if they are just messengers for VAR?

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It could like something like this for a borderline offside call:

  • Is there any evidence to overrule the linesman?
    • My linesman and I are happy that this is/isn't a goal. I need clear and obvious proof, not a fecking armpit, that he is offside/onside in order for the goal to not be given.
  • Offside: yes or no?
    • We need you VAR. We’re sorry we ever doubted you. Please save us.

Know the Rules

This one’s harder, but players, fans, pundits, writers and presenters just need to know the rules. GAA referee David Gough made this point at a live Play X Play event recently where he asked a very simple (paraphrased here) question; “where did you learn the rules for the game you play? Have you ever read the actual rule book?”.  It’s true, many of us have picked up on the rules from the coverage we watch/read, from an underage coach or even from older siblings/parents. They change, they adapt, and if we want to justifiably be angry about VAR calls then we need to make sure we actually know the rules that are being implemented. Be that handball, offside or even the ‘last man back’ rule, we’ve no right to be angry at VAR if we know less than it.

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The game isn’t gone, VAR isn’t useless, but something needs to change if it is to become a positive reinforcement of referees rather than the headline-grabbing, line-drawing, glee-stealing robot it has become in the Premier League.