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Video Assistant Referee: Advantages, Disadvantages, And The Future

Oliver McManus has a look at the Video Assistant Referee system, its advantages, disadvantages and its future.

Video Assistant Referee, or V.A.R as it’s more commonly referred to, is the most recent controversial measure introduced by FIFA / IFAB in an attempt to, ironically, make the game less controversial and reduce human error within the game. I say controversial tentatively because I see no problem with it, if implemented correctly, but it seems to have caused a superfluous outrage amongst fans the world over.

Let’s take a look at what exactly V.A.R is, the advantages and disadvantages and what the future has for its use.

V.A.R has a sole use – to enable the review of on-field decisions in real-time – and can be used for 4 purposes which are; 1) to review goals and whether there was a violation during the build-up, 2) penalty decisions, 3) red card decisions, but not double-yellows, 4) mistaken identity in the awarding of a red or yellow card. It sounds simple and it pretty much should be but as with all new things, there is always cause for debate so we’re going to thrash it out.

The obvious advantage that springs to mind is that it enables referees a second chance to look at a passage of play before deciding on the appropriate course of action – avoiding the brash, undeserved red card and giving way to a cool-headed, thoroughly thought through decision. I think if anyone wishes to argue with this point then they are frankly deluded, there is demonstrably a case to be made for a collective review of decisions and V.A.R enables this without having to resort to retrospective action.

Another distinct advantage is that it goes a long way to solve the issue of diving which we have all come to loathe in the game – of course it doesn’t eliminate the issue but if it happens in the box then it is almost certain to be caught out in the review. Hopefully the existence of V.A.R will serve as a deterrence in itself to those who are prone to diving.

In addition, the current format of the V.A.R system equates to an on-field equivalent of goal-line technology and even though that had its teething problems upon its implementations nowadays we can’t imagine football without it – it is clear cut and has completely revolutionised the game we know and love. It is IFAB’s hope, therefore, that V.A.R can grow into the game in a similar manner.

FIFA do however defend their product as being a work in progress and say that in the Group Stages of the recent Confederations Cup, V.A.R helped make 6 “game-changing decisions” and 29 “major incidents” so evidently it does work to an extent.

My final advantage would be that it, in the simplest form, is aimed at protecting referees from the fury of fans and players alike – far too often you see players encircling the referee when they disagree and now the ref can say “hold on, I’ve reviewed that” and be justified in taking more robust action against those aiming to intimidate.

The system does, however, come with some major downfalls and several of them may well just be teething problems but some may be long-term, permanent issues – only time will tell.

Saudi Arabian assistant Referee Mohammed al-Abakry checks the video playback during the 2017 Confederations Cup group game between Mexico and Russia. (Photo credit: FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)

Most outrageously is the sheer time that it takes for V.A.R to be used, we were promised “minimum interference for maximum impact” and that has proved to be anything but. I would have no problem with the system should the referee be able to view a replay on the side of the pitch and make his mind up in the matter of seconds but the guys at FIFA have deemed that we must have a SEPARATE video assistant referee and a SEPARATE assistant video assistant referee!

Comparisons can be drawn with rugby and cricket whereby T.M.O and D.R.S, respectively, are used to great effect and you would assume that that is the ultimate end goal for V.A.R but the main draw of both T.M.O and D.R.S is that they are very quick, efficient methods of reviewing play and leave little room for confusion. In addition to that, they are operated in a manner whereby team captains can “challenge” a decision and, as has been suggested, this could be an innovative way to implement V.A.R into the game to immense success.

It must also be said that decisions are very subjective on the field of play – I may well deem a high boot to be worthy of a mere yellow whilst Sami, here, could think it’s a red card all day long so in transitioning power from the on-field ref to the V.A.R ref, it opens up a whole new can of worms because it’s a game of opinions; it’s not clear cut where it’s “yes, this is offside / no, he’s onside”. As a result of this, there are well-voiced fears that we could see a constant undermining of the actual referee.

Another disadvantage, supposedly, is the lack of debate it could cause amongst fans – not entirely sure if that’s correct, given we’re having a debate now but I have heard it raised several times – Paul Ince was the main proponent of this theory, suggesting that football doesn’t NEED to be clear cut and that actually fans would actually rather a free flowing, end-to-end game which they can discuss to death in a pub (or other communal institution) rather than a perfectly refereed match which leads fans sitting in silence, gulping down their drink before rushing to get the train home.

It’s a valid point too, isn’t it? We all love a nice debate and, regardless of what team we support, there is nothing better than setting the world to rights with friends – or strangers – over a drink or two. The question that hangs over this is simple, is the game of football now primarily in the entertainment sector or still firmly in the sporting ball park?

If we decide entertainment then absolutely the debate should come first but if we want it to be sporting then you have to say that actually getting the right decisions must prevail, that’s just the way it is.

I’ll be honest with you guys when I say that I do support the use of Video Assistant Referees if implemented in the correct manner – fast, efficient, decisive – but, in its current guise, it is undeniable that the system is simply going to do more harm than good.

To be even more honest, I struggled to come up with 3 advantages of V.A.R (as you could probably tell) because of the way it’s been operated in the Confederations Cup whereas before we saw it in use I am fairly certain I could have reeled off about 8 or 9.

Nonetheless it serves as a talking point at the moment and let’s be honest, if we didn’t have talking points then what on earth would we do with ourselves as a football fan!

Oliver McManus

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