The last fortnight or so has seen a few interesting moments as we move closer towards VAR usage in the premier league next season. Nothing has happened to change how the system will be used but there has been further confirmation of the chosen VAR system in England and, more importantly, word from IFAB regarding how this will comply with the 12 principles of VAR they have established.
On its website IFAB has listed its 12 principles VAR. All are worth reading to familiarize yourself with what’s to come but one of them stands alone in importance, principle 6
6: The final decision is always taken by the referee, either based on information from the VAR or after the referee has undertaken an ‘on-field review’ (OFR).
So there we have it. Case Closed. It is permissible to use VAR while never making use of on-field reviews. Or…maybe not.
Firstly, the principle, unfortunately, doesn’t detail any mechanism for deciding between ‘information’ from VAR only or additionally using an OFR, nor does it give any indication that dispensing entirely with on-field reviews is permissible.
Secondly, on only a little reflection, it poses the question of what the difference is between opinion and information, and when the former graduates to the latter. This is a question which need to be addressed thoroughly and rigorously to ascertain whether it is possible and true that a referee will really be making the final decision in a system where they rely entirely on someone else to remotely interpret video replays and inform them of their content.
I suppose now is a good time to see if IFAB can clear up matters a little. They have a twitter account and have sent a few important tweets on the subject recently.
Essentially, they have backed up the intended use of VAR in England -i.e. no OFR- but, alarmingly I think, were compelled to resort to disingenuous behavior to do so. They chose to emphasize that it is permissible to not use OFR’s [on individual decisions], while saying nothing about whether it is desirable or acceptable to do away with them wholesale.
The bit that really set alarm bells ringing was their claim that OFR’s will be an option in England, that pitch side monitors will be available in the grounds. They cited its use in a particular game during the trials as evidence of this. It is very hard not to interpret this as an effort to mislead, though it is hard to guess what the spirit (free and easy, backed into a corner, etc) would be informing this.
Dishonest or Desperate
Simply, it is dishonest and desperate, to address the issue of whether it is ok for OFR’s not to be utilized in the English version of VAR by implying that OFR’s will be an option, having been used previously (and therefore will or could be used again). IFAB knows, as does anyone closely following developments, that Mike Riley or whoever is ultimately in charge of the VAR in England have already decided some time ago to not use pitch side monitors. What’s more, IFAB produced the example of an OFR being used during the trials as though it was seriously considered, knowing full well it was used only once, and then early in the trials, well over a year ago.
Whenever someone in authority feels compelled to mislead it is natural to wonder why. My best guess is IFAB is distinctly uncomfortable with the reality of the intended VAR in Blighty; given that the FA (via the PGMOL) is unique among all other associations who have implemented VAR and the English version comes close to not complying with the principles of VAR as laid out by IFAB themselves.
Mike Riley’s VAR vs IFAB protocol
Mike Riley’s VAR is only credible if it is established that the ref always retains the ability to make the final decision, which in turn relies on the idea they are not being presented with opinion or subjective interpretation by VAR officials, but with information/fact. We must therefore assume that the English VAR is imbued with the power to describe and relay information, as though the ref were watching the replays themselves (on, say, a pitch-side monitor), prior to said same ref making the final decision. In my opinion, this is a fanciful premise, comical even.
But it is no joke for IFAB. They tweeted again a few days ago in relation to the question of VAR-only reviews or on-field reviews.
However, with both a VAR-only review and on-field review it is the referee who makes the final decision, not the VAR.
So, in the case of the recently overturned red in the Wolves-Utd game, it was the ref, who had given a red card with a perfect view of the incident, who made the decision to change it to a yellow, based on information provided by the VAR official. Ok.
Interestingly, in the aforementioned tweet from IFAB, the situations they list as “usually appropriate” cover a limited range of the situations and are confined to those which truly qualify as matters of fact/information. Significantly they do not include situations such as the overturning of a red card, as in the Wolves-Utd game. In fact, they do not cover a huge portion of the situations that will be VAR-only next season. That, to me, is telling.
Again, it highlights, for me, the inherent and inescapable tension of IFAB promoting their own carefully designed version of VAR while supporting the divergent version that will be used in England. To be fair, the PGMOL earned a big PR victory here but in the long run will they be be able to keep IFAB onside. Will they be successful in keeping VAR in the booth?
Rich is a longtime student of and advocate for VAR. Follow him on twitter @Whatsinaname81