This was another weekend where refereeing and VAR came under fire following controversial decisions affecting results at St James’ Park, Stamford Bridge, Old Trafford and elsewhere.
The VAR, erroneously presented by some as a solution, creaks. But that was always unavoidable.
Here are six reasons why your implementation is struggling now and always will.
VAR has created even more outrage
VAR was ostensibly introduced in response to outrage from football managers, fans and the media, both at matches and, increasingly, online. That will likely never be a viable platform for implementation because that outrage will never be sated.
Coaches and fans always were, would always disagree with decisions and would blame those decisions more than the failures of coaches and players for the outcome of a game. His anger and inability to forgive or accept refereeing mistakes had also grown exponentially during the rapid commercialization of football. More money in the game meant more at stake. More at stake meant less accepting of mistakes. At some point, the mistakes of officials (but crucially not coaches and players) became the black beast of football culture.
Could VAR ever fix that culture? No. Instead of causing less outrage, the “will end the debate in pubs” argument simply added an extra layer to it. Now not all of us get angry about the decisions of a referee on the field. We analyze those decisions in real time via TV replays, doubling down on our opinions that are usually based on bias (we’re all fans, after all), and then we can get angry all over again if the decision doesn’t go our way. .
Can’t just fix ‘howlers’
Initially, VAR was introduced, or at least sold in this way to the audience, as a way to correct the howlers: Had Luis Suarez’s hand been undetected on the line at the 2010 World Cup, preventing a Ghana’s vital goal against Uruguay, say. And the system might well have been more successful if that goal had persevered.
But then that probably wouldn’t have worked either. Take Arsenal’s disallowed goal against Manchester United, for example. It was probably a foul by Martin Odegaard. It may not have happened. Interestingly, Manchester United fans would say it’s a foul and Arsenal fans would say no. Flip the teams around and the opposing arguments would inevitably have been presented.
If it hadn’t been overturned because, as is reasonable, it’s not a ‘howler’, would Manchester United fans have concluded that ‘yes, that’s fine, there’s no howler, so there’s no reason for me to intervene? the VAR”? clearly not. If you introduce technology, you are aiming, implicitly or otherwise, to go back to umpiring. The argument would be obvious: what is the point of using technology if you are not actually going to make the right decisions according to the law?
And that is one of the crux of the VAR problems. By presenting it, you are presenting what is an arbitration tool (a way to improve decisions that, whether you choose to accept it or not, has happened) as a solution.
The arbitration crisis has worsened
The refereeing profession, both at the elite and grassroots levels, needed no additional pressure or scrutiny. There is a numbers crisis in the base game that is diminishing due to a culture of rampant abuse, verbal and physical. If that hasn’t already caused a ripple effect at the highest level, it will. There is a necessary bottom-up drip feed for the progression of umpires from the grassroots level to the professional level and that conveyor belt will stop if there are fewer grassroots umpires. And if the culture of abuse continues at its current rate, we will really run out.
Every decision a referee makes will be controversial to some degree. At least one group of fans watching in the stadium or at home won’t agree with everything. That’s fueled in part by broadcast media and live football coverage, which places undue importance on analysis of refereeing decisions over incidents within the normal game: misses, failures to concentrate, misplaced passes. , defensive errors.
The introduction of VAR simply gave that analysis a natural home. Now that over-analysis comes as standard because elite football has created a natural environment for it. Not only do we have the use of slow-motion replays to analyze a fast-paced sport, allowing broadcasters to play the same replays for experts and co-commentators to offer their opinions, but it also creates an additional reason to criticize the officers.
I am well aware that nobody wants to hear this, but: officiating football is incredibly difficult. You must train for eight to 10 years to get from the grassroots to the professional level. The financial rewards are low. The culture of abuse is widespread. Throughout the entire journey, there are players and coaches trying to influence their decisions and effectively cheat to make decisions. The VAR could have laid bare that trap. Instead, it has simply exposed referee errors and created an additional environment for those errors to be incorrectly denounced as the greatest threat to modern football.
VAR still relies on error-prone humans
The introduction of the system came with an unfortunate misconception on the part of the audience: we were about to have technology make decisions. That is emphatically false and was profoundly useless. VAR is not about technological arbitrage. These are human beings using additional evidence to make decisions.
And the thing about human beings is that they’re… human. They will make calls based on opinion. They will make mistakes, whether on the pitch or at Stockley Park. They will interpret decisions differently from each other and certainly differently from a proportion of people in the crowd, in a television studio, or at home. They are defective.
An officer would see the Jarrod Bowen incident and believe that he deliberately left a leg dangling to make contact with Edouard Mendy. Another might think the same but not believe that it was a fault. Another might not buy Mendy by making the most of contact, rolling injured. Another might view the incident simply as incidental contact in the course of normal play.
“The problem is not the technology but the people who use it,” someone will say every week. Okay, yes. But that was always going to be the case, and he comes back to the point of presenting this as a solution rather than a tool. Forwards miss opportunities; defenders give short passes to their goalkeeper; midfielders beat passes; officials make wrong decisions. None of those involved is a robot.
It messes up the flow of football.
In 2016, when Ifab, the international guardians of football rules, initially announced the test of VAR arbitration, they issued a promise: “The initial tests will deliberately have a narrow focus to minimize the impact of the flow and emotions that are crucial for football”. .”
But that was always going to be impossible. Soccer has far fewer natural breaks in the game than other sports where technology is widely used: cricket, American football, rugby. Soccer also gets the ball back into play quicker than those three sports, meaning any disruption is more obvious and inevitably disrupts the sport as viewers’ goal.
On Sunday, it took four and a half minutes to identify that Alexis MacAllister’s goal for Brighton could not be sustained due to offside in the build-up. That equates to roughly 10 percent of the time the ball was in play during the game. Even if VAR had worked flawlessly and eliminated all bugs (which was impossible, but go with the assumption), it won’t convince me that it was worth changing the structure of the game up to that point.
It cannot overcome the unique subjectivity of football.
Take 12.1 of the Ifab Laws of the Game: “A direct free kick shall be awarded if a player commits any of the following offenses against an opponent in a manner deemed by the referee to be negligent, reckless or using excessive force:… loads. If an offense involves contact, it is sanctioned with a direct free kick.
Count the subjective calls within it: What is an oversight? What is reckless? What is excessive force? What is a charge? Does “contact” include any contact or just deliberate? By “commit” does that include the mere intention to commit”? And when you’ve worked through all those aspects, what a referee should do in a second or two, it’s all based on what “the referee sees.” And this is simply an element (charge) of a subset of a law.
The laws of football are more subjective than those of any other sport. In cricket, you can determine whether or not a ball went out of the leg (with a margin for umpire error). In rugby, you can tell if a pass is forward or not. And none of these sports generate anywhere near the enduring outrage surrounding decisions like soccer does.
The use of technology works for objective decisions: Did the ball go over the line? Was the foul inside or outside the box? Was the player in his own half when the pass was made (and thus in playing position)? As soon as it is extended to subjective calls, consistency becomes impossible because the very point of subjectivity is that it allows for a spectrum of opinion.