This season the controversial Video Assistant Referee (VAR) is going to be introduced into Premier League football. Sunderland are a long way off playing under the week in, week out scrutiny of VAR but that doesn’t mean there won’t be residual fallout.
For Sunderland last season, it appeared, not a game went by without reports of woeful refereeing decisions either by the media or fans alike. But how could VAR make this any worse?
From the terraces down to the grassroots, it’s clear if something needs to be improved within the game it requires focus and money from the top of football to make it happen. However, as all the attention shifts for the Premier League – then going forward, the Football League – to technology, it’s hard to see where the coaching or funding will come from to improve standards in refereeing at all levels.
Indeed, the long-term concern for the lower leagues is that standards plummet further rather than improve.
Video Assistant Refereeing is still in its infancy but is here to stay. We’ve all witnessed matches at Premier League level, down to League One where the referee seems intent on making the headlines with a red card, or the award of a controversial decision. The authorities would deny that happens of course, and that all referees are unbiased officials – and so they should be. In many games where the official spoilt the match, a lot was down to just poor standards of refereeing. There would even be games where VAR would have come to Sunderland’s aid. But there is likely to be no funding to improve the standards or training of officials if paying for an expensive ‘experiment’ instead.
The controversy surrounding some of the Woman’s World Cup matches already, and the great Pierluigi Collina suggesting the event shouldn’t be used to experiment with new laws, suggests there are huge problems with the system. The laws of the game have always been that when referees make a decision, that decision stands. If the referee has dealt with an incident there and then on the pitch, the referee cannot later be overruled, this includes dealing with an offence that should carry a red card.
If events in France are to go by, that is no longer the case. What will this mean in future?
- Referees being overruled;
- Opposition fans shouting for every decision, even just to stop the game;
- No assistant referees patrolling the touchline;
- Matches slowing down for every stoppage while VAR is checked;
- The referee will be a glorified bouncer on the pitch.
The purpose of VAR is just to assist the referee in areas they haven’t spotted something; whereas, it may be a case of interference.
To illustrate the more controversial side of VAR we only need to look as far as the Scotland v Argentina match in Women’s World Cup. In the latter stages of the game, the referee has ruled that a challenge in the box is not a penalty. But then VAR suggests otherwise and from a second look the referee gives that penalty… some supporters may say that is fair enough.
However, when the subsequent spot kick is saved in front an unobstructed referee, how can VAR pull the match back again for referee to order the penalty to be retaken without that being interfering or overruling the referee?
If young, budding referees see their prospects in the game are going to be limited by the technology in question then the number of good referees will drop.
The funding for their training will drop too, and the next claim from football’s governing bodies will be that as there are so few referees joining the game every match will be taken over by the ‘video ref’.
As always, it will be the fans that suffer and none more so than those in the lower leagues.
In the past year we’ve seen matches that have looked like the 1980’s ‘Crazy Gang’ were the days opponents; by the half-hour mark of the game its plain the official has lost control of the match completely. But if officials are not learning how to keep control of a match it breeds a lack of respect.
Unfortunately, we are at a point where the top brass think they have an answer, one which will obliterate any respect in the game for officials until they are no more.
Football is a great sport and can teach the younger generation a great many lessons, but respecting an official or a decision is not a lesson football is likely to teach our boys and girls, most certainly not when VAR is involved.