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Analysing VAR in Football: The pros and cons of technology

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As much as football traditionalists would like to hope otherwise, technology in general and Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in particular have a legitimate and rightful place in the “Beautiful Game”. For better or worse, expect it to be a part of the game until the end of time.

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The Success of Goal-line Technology

Those who have argued for years to include technology in football, have usually only advocated its use on the goal line. This idea is to help referees determine whether or not the ball has crossed said line in its entirety. Looking back on that debate, one cannot help but laugh at the arguments the traditionalists were making against it. They said the human touch would disappear from the sport, that fans would have fewer things to argue about and so on.

Introducing VAR

Nonetheless, when FIFA and its related organisations decided in favour of the use of technology, they went further than most modernisers of the game wanted to go at the time. They did this by gradually introducing VAR.

Benefits of VAR

  • it makes football fairer by minimising the number of refereeing errors
  • It puts the emphasis on getting the decision right

In key situations, referees are susceptible to errors. I don’t think anyone would expect otherwise. At a time when the stakes of the victory, draw or defeat are greater than they have ever been, this should be in everyone’s best interest.

Drawbacks of VAR

  • too much time to get the decision right comes at the cost of entertainment
  • there are too few opportunities for assistant referees to refuse a rule

Getting the decision right, even at the expense of other things, have made football the world’s game for over a century now. This is the one area where those who do not want the sport to change have a point. It annoys fans to have to wait for a VAR decision. Consider lengthy delays after a team scores a goal or when the player in question may or may not have been offside by a hair. It does take away from the emotion that makes football second to none.

But is it worth sacrificing a little of that, in order to get the correct decision? Perhaps, though compromises must be made between the two.

Compromises Must Be Permitted

Of course some of that compromise is already built into the VAR system. It only comes into use in a few key areas in the game:

  • checking goals
  • penalty kick decisions
  • red cards
  • mistaken identity

This ensures that one of football’s greatest attributes, its largely uninterrupted flow of play remains intact as much as possible.

The other compromise is that VAR is supposedly only to become active when the referee has made a clear error in one of the just mentioned areas. That part can be (and is) quite tricky in practice. Offside decisions are the frustrating exception to that rule, which they shouldn’t be. It makes no sense to subject offside decisions to absolute laser-precision, while giving referees areas of interpretation in many other aspects of the game.

The 2018 World Cup was the first major international tournament to use VAR. It turned out to be an astonishing success there. But in the 2019 Women’s World Cup, VAR was an absolute disaster, yet that is explainable by the fact that it had never been used before at any level of the women’s game and by the introduction of new rules that went into effect that summer.VAR is a useful tool for the referees . While there are still some details mentioned above to be ironed out it, it is a welcome step forward in the sport beloved by billions of people around the globe.

Fans and VAR: What do they think?

In a massive SkySports survey, it was concluded that respondents gave VAR 4/10 in overall effectiveness.

The poll found:

  • 67% – VAR makes watching football less enjoyable
  • 60% – VAR has worked “badly”
  • 8% – want to keep using VAR as it is used now
  • 74% – keep, but change how it is used
  • 15% – stop using VAR entirely

We’d love to hear from you in the comments. What would you do to improve VAR?

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Denis Knezovic is a longtime football/soccer writer, as well as a published author.
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/DenisKnezovic1
Twitter: @KnezovicDenis