Nearly 100-days ago the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) made its triumphant arrival on the global football stage when the 2018 World Cup kicked off in Russia. After 68 games VAR was declared an overwhelming success by the vast majority of football fans and experts within the game. This is despite the repeated attempts of a dwindling minority to declaim its role in improving the accuracy and transparency of key refereeing decisions during the tournament.
FIFA’s president, Giannni Infantino, in his press conference on the eve of the finals was euphoric in describing how pleased his organization was with VAR:
There have been more than 440 checks, 19 reviews in 62 matches – so one every three and a half games. There were 16 decisions changed. Changed means from a wrong decision to a right decision.
VAR is cleaning football, making it more transparent and honest, helping referees to make decisions. Ninety-five per cent of decisions were already correct. Thanks to VAR we increased it to 99.32%, the latest figures. Touch wood for the next two games.
Offside goals are finished in football, at least with VAR. You will never see an offside goal scored because with VAR you either are, or you are not, offside. How many times have you [the press] been writing about this – is he offside or not? Now you will have other arguments because offside is finished.
Its not merely the officials. The majority of English football fans are just as complimentary of VAR according to a survey of 1,000 respondents by the data collection agency, VIGA. According to Science Alert:
….an overwhelming 75 percent of those surveyed believed the VAR felt the overall quality of the games, and the same percentage felt refereeing was also improved thanks to the use of this technology.
Contrast this positive affirmation of VAR with the skepticism bordering on hostility from Michel Platini:
VAR is a DIY video, which hasn’t brought more justice to football,” the former UEFA President told Sport.
I know FIFA, it’s their job to find statistics that suit them. At best, the video can really help to judge a ball that crosses the goal line or not or with offsides because these decisions are based on specific facts: inside or outside.
Why are all the refereeing chiefs in favour of the VAR? Because it covers their backs and they’re always on the side of those who feed them.
At this point it should be noted that Platini is no example of probity and rectitude. He was banned from football for receiving “disloyal” payments from the disgraced former FIFA president, Sepp Blatter. But he does know a thing or two about protecting the status quo as evident during his tenure as UEFA president especially their choice of certain referees to do the big champion’s league games involving Barcelona.
Despite his personal failings, Platini does have a point. Like any other tool, powerful people can manipulate VAR to get the results they desire. It’s no panacea for all the crookedness and wrongdoing which afflicts the sport as demonstrated by recent scandals which caused big heads to roll at both FIFA and UEFA.
Throughout the history of mankind the implementation of technology in every sphere of human activity has often presented an “opportunity” for revolutionary improvements over the status quo while concurrently becoming a “threat” to the very people it was supposed to help. For example Einstein’s theories provided us with the tools to exploit the power of the atom but it has also led mankind to the edge of Armageddon as collectively the US, Russia, China, Britain and France have stockpiles of atomic bombs that can destroy the earth many times over.
Football is no different. Technological advance is inevitable, VAR is a certainty, but under what terms and conditions. How can VAR be used to enhance the beautiful game and not become a dystopian nightmare where games are engineered not simply to produce a certain result but to generate artificial excitement to benefit the broadcasters who have invested billions to obtain tv rights? American sports networks are already experts at this and PL broadcasters are not far behind, as those of us who depend on NBC coverage can attest.
What should make every fan of English football, and the Premier League in particular, nervous and suspicious is the relative reign of silence by the PL and the PGMO about their plans for VAR. This quietude was only broken on or around September 5th when they announced a 15 match trial of VAR in the PL starting after the international break.
According to the Sky News report, the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) aim to prove the system is “fit for purpose” before presenting its findings to Premier League shareholders next year, with the aim of fully introducing it from next season.
Note the insinuation that VAR is some unproven technology whose success at the World Cup is unknown to the PGMOL or to the football public at large. It’s not as if some of the best referees in the world, both retired and active, have been silent on the benefits of VAR. Pierluigi Collina, 5-times voted World Referee of the Year, who was head of the FIFA’s referee committee at the World Cup, in an ESPN interview last month, gave a quite measured assessment of VAR:
I want to be honest here: When you have a background like mine, as a referee who came of age in a certain period and enjoyed making decisions on the pitch on his own, [VAR] might not be easy to accept.
But, equally, if the ability of a referee to officiate a game is going to be judged after the fact based on video replays from multiple angles, then referees should have those replays from multiple angles too. … I said that a long time ago, and I still believe it.
I know some people are philosophically opposed to VAR because they don’t think technology has a place in football. I can respect that. But we must be open-minded and ready to implement what can be really useful and helpful.
Yet Premier League fans appear mildly complacent Mike Riley and his Premier League bosses slow walk the implementation of VAR. Are we so divided and self-absorbed, pondering the fate of our respective clubs, to be satisfied by any bone the Premier League throws our way?
A few of us, hopefully representative of most PL fans, are not happy with the status quo. We have agreed to publish this blog, at least weekly, to shine the spotlight on the so-called trial of VAR and its inevitable but painstaking implementation by the PL and PGMOL. Our core principles are the following:
We are supporters of the English Premier League and believe, if is to be the best league in the world, should have the highest standards of refereeing. We believe VAR, properly implemented, will revolutionize the accuracy and consistency of key refereeing decisions. We believe a non-partisan blog in support of VAR will assist in making it a reality.
We hope it will gain support from fans of every club and every walk of life.
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