Forewarning: Below is a mostly negative rant about VAR and how it’s impacting the game.
By now most of you are familiar with Video Assistant Refereeing, or VAR for short. VAR is in its sophomore year in MLS and it’s first time on the big stage at the World Cup. The VAR system has developed its fair share of controversy for those supporting and against it. Several pundits can often point to the tapes and feel justified or aggrieved but the facts are clear, the ball (or man) don’t lie, so they say.
In my opinion the use of VAR has taken away from the beautiful game itself. Long stoppages in play often disrupt the flow and the edge that has teams and fans on the edge of their seats. To put this in perspective, the World Cup group stage saw 14 incidents reviewed pitch side at an average of 80 seconds per review. Granted, the accuracy of referee decisions has been increased from 95.0% to 99.3% as a result, according to ESPN. However, that’s long enough for the whole dynamic of a situation to change entirely. On top of that, VAR possibilities are seemingly endless. For now the reviews are limited to the big ticket items such as goalscoring plays, red card offenses and the like. But it’s hard not to imagine a time in the near future (assuming VAR continues) in which it could be used to review other things that are less minor.
For instance, why would a team not point to any mistake leading up to a goal against and claim for VAR to be used? Any throw-in, coming together of players, any slight deflection even, could be subject to review and change the whole course of the game. Where is the line drawn to say you can’t review this, or this period of time has elapsed so that decision is final? We’ve seen multiple occasions where a team will basically stop playing and make the VAR rectangle sign with their hands and whine until they get a review. Obviously referees aren't perfect and they sure do make their share of mistakes, but isn't that part of Joga Bonito, the Beautiful Game?
For those that are interested in greater detail of each of the 14 incidents reviewed at the World Cup check out this handy timeline of reviews provided by ESPN. With this timeline, lets dive into Iran vs. Portugal. I was watching the second half of this live and was frustrated immensely by the length of time it took for the off-the-ball Cristiano Ronaldo decision to be made. Ronaldo brushed by one of the Iran defenders who knew what he was doing in impeding Ronaldo.
A quick coming together later and BAM we need a review because someone is rolling on the ground. In this instance I don't think the right call was made at all. A hand to the face is a straight red. On the flip side, embellishment by the defender would be punishable for the Iranian player. The ref reviewed for far too long and seemed to settle in the middle with a Ronaldo yellow card. How does that decision make any sense?
I’ll give one more for you in the Saudi Arabia vs. Egypt match. For the second PK to be awarded in this game the referee again went to the VAR booth and had a nice long look at this one. The initial decision on this one was a penalty. The decision after review? A penalty. Take a look for yourself here and see what you think:
I have two problems with the clip above. For one, the length of time it took to get this review decided. And two, I for one disagree with the decision and maybe you do too. But that’s just it, this all comes down to opinion and judgement. Referees are human and judge things differently. Don't people say all the time how Premier League referees and fouls are different from other leagues? Consistency will be the key if VAR is going to stick around.
I’ll even play devil’s advocate a bit on myself and promote VAR for a minute. Sure I agree some wrong decisions might be overturned and some of the cheekier players might get away with less. And yes, the correct decision accuracy has been increased as referenced above. We’ve already seen several decisions at the World Cup, which the majority were confirming or overturning to the correct decision. And yes, VAR has been critical in determining the right outcome of several plays, but at what cost are we buying into VAR for? I am personally not willing to sacrifice the flow, emotion and purity of the game for accuracy.
So my apologies for needing to vent here but VAR shouldn't be used. In the grand scheme of things the pros do not outweigh the cons for me and I am hoping this isn't a precursor for the future of soccer on a global scale. Let’s put technology in sport and VAR behind us for now and put some more effort into other things that need work, for instance, FIFA scandals anyone?