When VAR (Video Assistant Referee) was introduced into the Premier League in the 2019/20 season, it was something that had been long-awaited, but thus far, it has made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Conor Daly talks us through this crucial development in the sporting world and some of the issues associated with this sporting development.
New solutions, particularly ones that involve technology, always tend to have a certain amount of teething problems. But, VAR is taking this to the extreme. Not a weekend goes by where managers, players and pundits aren’t united in some dispute about the ineffectiveness of the system and how nuanced changes are needed.
The system itself is working properly, most of the time at least. There have been several instances where subsequent analysis has proven that certain decisions were incorrect. But one of the primary disputes pundits and managers have is the fact that Premier League referees seem reluctant to consult the pitchside monitor before they make a decision. This is starting to change but has been a bone of contention mainly because referees in the MLS and La Liga for example, are doing this far more regularly. Additionally, the visuals they see on these screens are very often in slow motion, which anyone who has watched football knows, makes any incident look ten times worse. They need to be shown the passage of play in both real-time and slow motion in order to be able to make a decision that takes into account the pace of play among other factors.
One of the most controversial decisions thus far was the penalty given against Eric Dier of Tottenham in a recent game against Newcastle. The ball hit his arm as he was coming down from challenging a header. His back was to the ball and he had no way of knowing where it was. But still, the penalty was given. This understandably caused an uproar with one common consensus; the interpretation of the law needs to change. And it did. Slightly. But still, penalties for handball since then have been, in some cases, laughable.
An issue that is cropping up is the fact that the decisions are becoming more binary, which is to be expected when artificial intelligence is involved. Some of the emotion is being taken out of the game. This is most notably the case with the offside rule. This technology allows referees to call decisions that are too close for the naked eye to discern. However, some of these situations seem farcical. A player may be onside but have a knee or a shoulder offside, and consequently, have a goal ruled out. It can be argued that this is the correct decision, which is fair, yet it takes away the joy of scoring a goal. You can see just by watching on TV that some players delay their celebrations in case the goal is later ruled out.
The solution is a difficult one. As of yet, there doesn’t seem to be one. But all the parties involved are fed up. Maybe there needs to be some small changes and a period where this new technology just needs to be integrated into the game. However, some would argue it should be completely gotten rid of. Whatever happens, hopefully by the time fans return to stadiums, a solution, or at the very least a long-term plan, will have been decided upon.