As long as there has been football, there have been referees, and as long as there have been referees, there have been refereeing errors. Complaining about the referee or lamenting a decision that went against your team has been part of the sport from its beginning, but with so much riding on top-level football games these days, the governing bodies involved have decided to take action to improve the quality of decision-making.
The solution that they have come up with is Video Assistant Referee (VAR). It follows the successful introduction of video review procedures in a number of other sports, including cricket and rugby league, and is designed to assist the on-field referee.
VAR was first approved by the International Football Association Board (IFAB), the body that sets the laws of the game, in 2016. It was first trialled later that year at a United Football League match between two MLS reserve sides, and further trials were carried out in 2016 and 2017 before the system was used in a professional match in April 2017 when it was employed in the Australian A-League clash between Wellington Phoenix and Sydney FC.
MLS adopted VAR at the 2017 All-Star game, and it was introduced to most top-level European leagues, with the exception of the English Premier League, at the start of the current season. The technology was first used in England in an FA Cup match between Brighton and Crystal Palace in January of this year.
It works by having two officials – the VAR and an assistant – reviewing a game on video while it is ongoing. At any point in the game, the onfield referee can ask the VAR to check an incident relating to goals, penalty decisions, or red and yellow card decisions, and the VAR can also conduct their own check. The on-field referee also has the option of checking the footage themselves by going to the side of the pitch and reviewing the video.
It is this latest aspect of VAR that has proven to be most controversial. Football is a fast-moving game, and the process of the referee stopping to review video footage inevitably causes delays. It can also cause added tension for in-play football bettors following live betting on Stakers.com as they have to wait to see which way the decision will go.
As is often the case when video technology is introduced into sport, there have been problems. Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane said that it was confusing after witnessing it during the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup Final. Last month, Portuguese club Aves benefited from a goal that might have been offside because a supporter’s flag was obstructing the VAR camera. In England, there has been considerable opposition from supporters following high-profile VAR controversies in the FA Cup games between Liverpool and West Brom and Tottenham and Rochdale, with fans complaining that the system slowed down the game too much.
However, the majority of fans, if not players and managers, appear to be in favour of VAR, despite the initial difficulties of implementing it – and so does the sport’s governing body. Earlier this month, IFAB included VAR in the Laws of the Game, and while the use of VAR remains optional for all competitions, it will be used in the World Cup this summer. It seems that hard-pressed football referees will at last have some help, while football fans will have someone other than the onfield referee to blame when decisions go against their team!