Sunday, January 24, 2021

VAR changes the first step in the right direction

This morning, the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) have issued some changes to the way in which referees will use VAR in the Premier League. Despite the fact that there are screens at the side of the pitch for referees to refer to, we’ve seen only one ref actually use it in domestic competition this year.

In the third round of the FA Cup, referee Michael Oliver ran to the side of the pitch and used the monitor for guidance. Having initially awarded Luka Milovojevic a yellow card for his tackle, Oliver upgraded it to a red card following a second look at the screen. That’s the exact sort of incident for which the PGMOL have told referees they are to use the pitchside screen from this weekend onward in the Premier League.

For me, this is a positive change without a doubt. I’m a big critic of VAR and the sheer existence of a video referee in football, but if we’re going to have it then it must be done correctly. It’s ridiculous that the above incident is the ONLY time a pitchside screen has been used in England all season. At least this way, the decision on whether a red card should be issued remains with the on-field referee and VAR acts as intended – as an aid to help the referee make a decision.

It IS the first step, but it’s the first step on a very long road. Due to the sheer calamitous integration of VAR in the Premier League, most everyone is so far against it now that it will be very hard to bring people back on side – but it can be done.

VAR needs some work

VAR at Stockley Park

For me, the next thing we need is to be able to hear the conversation between the referee and the video assistant referee, so we can understand the logic behind the decisions they are making. A video went viral from the Australian A-League last month which showed the way they do it over there – and it seemed so much better and transparent.

Another thing I believe is absolutely necessary is a margin of error, or some sort of version of the umpires call rule from the world of cricket. There have been far too many instances of goals being ruled out due to a player being mere millimetres offside. As far as I’m concerned, the attacker is not gaining an advantage by being 6mm ahead of the defender – so why call it off?

All this does is mean we get less goals and more controversy in the Premier League – both of which are surely the opposite of what we want to achieve. More goals means more entertaining football matches, so surely the last thing the Premier League want to do is worsen the package they offer? Short of a rule change, which I proposed here, a margin of error is the only way to avoid this scenario repeatedly occurring.

At the end of the day, the whole point of VAR was to change “clear and obvious” errors from the on-field referees. If you have to whip out the protractor and the whole geometry set for an offside decision, it’s clearly not a clear and obvious error. If you can’t see the player is off with the naked eye, then the decision should be left with the onfield referee.

Make all these changes and maybe, just maybe, you might begin to have a marketable product that football fans can get behind. The new changes this weekend are without a doubt a step in the right direction, but the road is long ahead.

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