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Electronic Technological Penetration In Football: Is VAR What We Really Need?

*Written by Samhita Mukherjee.





Introduction


“I was left with the decision I had taken with no independent evidence that I’d got it wrong other than a gut feeling, and I was just hoping that Ronaldo would miss the penalty. But he didn’t.”[1]

The aforementioned quote by Howard Webb highlights a predominant issue of decision-making while refereeing in football. To mitigate such dilemma, the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) was introduced in the world of football in the Laws of the Game[2] and then during the 2018 World Cup. The introduction of VAR represents a landmark decision to acclimatise the world of football with electronic technological penetration.

Let us clarify that VAR is not the first technological advancement that has been introduced in football over the past couple of decades. Technological improvements have been introduced in the form of advanced-quality footballs, cleats/boots, goalkeeping gloves, and so on. Nonetheless, the VAR being the first electronic technology to be introduced in football has turned out to be the most controversial.

What is VAR?


The VAR technology was introduced to review decision-making errors by the referees by analysing four areas: approval/disapproval of goals, penalty decisions, direct red card decisions, and mistaken identity in awarding a red or yellow card. [3] The VAR is considered the silent referee that reviews disputed events of a match and then communicates the finding to the head referee who is on the field. The VAR potentially analyses whether the on-field referee has made an error in their decision and confirms whether the decision should be changed or continued with. The on-field referee is given the freedom to either alter their decision based on the VAR findings or review the incident through a monitor station. It should be noted that the VAR can be used under specific disputes wherein, it is elaborated when the system can be used, how to signal for VAR intervention and the rules players must comply with. [4] The VAR is used as a last resort after the decision given by the head referee following a match incident which is disputed by the opposition.

Is technical penetration in football through VAR effective?


By the means of a thorough literature review of the modified rule in sports, it has been deduced that technological penetration in football was introduced to improve the quality of sports globally. [5] People recognise that on-field referees are likely to make human errors and that can cost the team against which the decision has been given. Often referees also are subject to personal biases wherein, they could either support a specific club or player, or they could be holding a vendetta against a specific club or player. The literature review also suggests that introducing advanced technology in football also attracts spectators, while mitigating chances of spectator dissatisfaction through the decision-making of the on-field referees. The VAR system thus was not introduced to improve the quality of football solely but as a measure introduced to cater to the pressures faced by clubs and media to increase the standard of decision-making while refereeing football matches.

The VAR appears to be all hunky-dory on paper but in reality, is it as effective as they hoped it would be? This question can be answered best by the players and managers being subjected to the repercussions of the VAR. The VAR system has been welcomed by some and abhorred by some. The system has received criticism and praise alike. Sol Campbell, England’s former centre-back, posted a tweet declaring: “It’s the age of technology, this is when it comes in handy…!”[6] But is it the common consensus?

The supporters of VAR have said that the decisions given during the matches are more accurate. Off-side decisions would be more precise and the players who tend to dive on the pitch would be more cautious while doing so. On the contrary, the ones who abhor VAR have commented that with the introduction of VAR, the games have been slower as the players keep on appealing for VAR checks. Furthermore, some events are likely to be subjective as this is a physical game and not everything can be classified as absolute. Decisions where numerous people believe that VAR is ineffective during penalty decisions and handball decisions.

The fans of VAR have explicitly mentioned that although the decision-making of referees has improved in quality, the matches have become less enjoyable due to the VAR checks being conducted regularly. [7] Andy Robertson following eight VAR checks against Liverpool in a Liverpool vs Brighton match commented that “players and fans are falling out of love with football because of VAR and ex-professionals should be tasked with reviewing its implementation.”[8] Following the aforementioned match, Liverpool player James Millner, posted a tweet voicing his dissatisfaction by saying that “we need a serious discussion about VAR. Sure I’m not alone in feeling like they are falling out of love with the game in its current state.”

The VAR might be improving the refereeing decisions but the majority consensus shared globally is that the VAR is not only affecting the players, but it is affecting the whole game. Football fans and players consider the VAR to be a turn-off in its current state.

Players have mentioned that before the VAR was introduced they would love getting on the pitch to play and would be zealous to celebrate goals. Following the introduction of the VAR, the players seem to be left less joyous after scoring goals. The reason is that the VAR takes up several minutes to assess whether the goal is legitimate or not following critical reviews of whether the player was onside or offside and based on that give or deny the goal. This is a common consensus shared by most players.

Conclusion


The VAR takes away the human element that the referees bring to the game. Using the offside rule as an example, we know that if a striker is beyond the last defender, then he is considered to be offside. The VAR will declare a player offside even if the tip of the striker’s boot is beyond the last defender. Whereas, the on-field referee would call a player off-side when the striker is significantly beyond the defender. Players, managers, referees and fans alike prefer to see that human element being present in the game. It is absurd to assume players will not be able to make even a slight mistake due to electronic technological penetration in a very physical and manual sport like football.

Fans and players have commented how the zeal of watching a match live and celebrating with the team and fans are lost during live matches due to the constant reviews. The VAR was meant to uphold consistency of the game but instead has been disappointing fans and players with stoppage after stoppage.

Andy Robertson once said, “Football is a great game that we fell in love with, and are still in love with, and it is important we don’t lose that. I am all for change and we have to move with the times but it is important to remember the key values of football that made us fall in love with it.”[9] The VAR might have been introduced to improve the quality of decision-making while refereeing but the most important part of football is the spirit of the game. The players and fans alike rejoice in the spirit of the game and it is important for the clubs and authorities should start recognising what is important to the fans and players. Electronic technological penetration in football in the mode of VAR has remained a debate that still is yet to be resolved.












*The author is a law scholar from Jindal Global Law School, OP Jindal Global University, India.




















(The image used here is for representative purposes only)











References:


[1] Bradbury S. (2020). ‘Oh, s∗∗t’ - Howard Webb Admits Mistake in Man United Game That Cost Liverpool. Echo. Available online at: https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/sport/football/football-news/oh-st-howard-webb-admits-18202388 (accessed September 23, 2022).

[2] International Football Association Board [IFAB] (2018b). Information on the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) Experiment, Incl. Provisional Results. Available online at: https://static-3eb8.kxcdn.com/documents/639/165902_220118_IFAB_Media_Package_ABM2017_all_media_FINAL.pdf (accessed September 23, 2022).

[3] Samuel, R. D., Galily, Y., Filho, E., & Tenenbaum, G. (2020). Implementation of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) as a Career Change-Event: The Israeli Premier League Case Study. Frontiers in psychology, 11, 564855. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.564855

[4] Supra note 2

[5] Arias J. L., Argudo F. M., Alonso J. I. (2011). Review of rule modification in sport. J. Sports Sci. Med. 10 1–8. [PMC free article] [PubMed]

[6]https://twitter.com/SolManOfficial/status/1007962471112593408?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1007962471112593408%7Ctwgr%5Ed639c51ccea1c89fd1e4ba61a5a70c7cd415a48d%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.irishnews.com%2Fmagazine%2Fdaily%2F2018%2F06%2F16%2Fnews%2F12-very-different-opinions-on-var-at-the-world-cup-to-help-you-make-your-mind-up-1357898%2F

[7] Ibbetson, C. (2020, September 10). What do football fans think of var? YouGov. Retrieved September 27, 2022, from https://yougov.co.uk/topics/sport/articles-reports/2020/09/10/premier-league-fans-VAR-effect-on-game

[8] Hunter, A. (2020, November 30). Andy Robertson warns var is making people fall out of love with football. The Guardian. Retrieved September 27, 2022, from https://www.theguardian.com/football/2020/nov/30/liverpool-andy-robertson-warns-var-is-making-people-fall-out-of-love-with-football

[9] Id.