23 June 2019

VAR: It can work given a chance...honest

Watching the Women's World Cup on TV has enabled me to get my football fix during the barren months of the domestic season. Even my wife has got into it a bit after some initial scepticism. It's been largely fun to watch so far, although there is one major talking point.

The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) was first trialled during the 2018 World Cup. The trial was largely successful, although there were some concerns with the way it was used, and it has since been seen in some Champions League games and now in the year's FIFA Women's World Cup.

Let me state my case up front. I'm not against VAR. It is important to ensure the right decision is made by the officials at key moments in a game. VAR can help with this. No the problem I have with is the way a VAR decision is communicated, and the manner in which it is used.

Take today's England v Cameroon game as an example, although I could have picked several other games from this tournament. Upwards of 15 minutes were spent reviewing decisions during the game. As if that wasn't bad enough, at times the officials didn't seem sure whether the VAR panel were looking at something. If the official in the centre of the pitch isn't sure what's going on, what chance have the players, managers, and crowd? 

It's time to take a leaf out of other sports (e.g. rugby) where it is the referee who calls in the VAR team to ensure they've made the right decision. It shouldn't be a team elsewhere calling the shots. Refereeing is hard enough, but to have players bending your ear asking what is going on, or remonstrating when you overturn a previous decision, undermines their authority.

Admittedly football is a different game from rugby, so all the more important to get the rules of the game right to enable technology to be used to the best of its ability. Don't tamper with the rules by automatically booking goalkeepers coming off their line at penalties. Don't have assistant referees unable to overrule another official. Maybe even have more than one referee on the pitch. It mostly works in American Football.

So the big question is, does VAR work? If used correctly, I'd say yes it does. We'll undoubtedly see a lot more red cards and penalties, but that's OK. Rules are rules, and if players don't stick to them, they should expect to get into trouble. Where it doesn't work is where the rules are either unclear, downright stupid, or just not enforced.

The really sad part of all this, is we end up talking about VAR rather than the football. That must be incredibly frustrating to the players and managers who've worked so hard. There's been some real moments of quality in the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup so far, yet here I am speaking negatively about the tournament as a whole.

So please FIFA, sort out VAR so we can get back to remembering the skill and athleticism of the players, rather than the confusing mess we've witnessed so far.

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