VAR in the Dock by Russ John

Russ John argues the case for VAR.

When attempting to justify the use of VAR, I firmly acknowledge that it will be a treacherous battle against football purists and indeed nailing my colours to the “goalpost”, I partially agree with their fears and doubts, but in an ever changing and technological world, the doubters are in fact a bunch of Luddites!

Straight from the offset I understand that football purists hate VAR, they contend that it interrupts play, it removes controversy and it undermines the authority of the officials. All valid points, but in my opinion, all these potential pitfalls of the system are counteracted by my overwhelming desire to see fair play, justice done and most importantly, because this is what football is all about, that the right team wins.

The game has changed, and it has become nearly impossible for referees to make accurate decisions – decisions which may decide a possible relegation or championship win. The game has become too fast and cheating by the players has become endemic – and further, the players are getting increasingly proficient at fooling the officials

It is no longer acceptable or tenable to put 100% faith in a quartet of officials who, after all,are mere mortals, with all the failings and frailties that this potentially entails.

Tennis, American Football, cricket and rugby union have made full and effective use of replay technology. Football should learn from these experiences, tweaking the systems to make them more complementary and sympathetic to our sport. Crikey, I don’t know about you, but many times as an armchair fan, I find it nearly impossible to make a decision, even after watching several replays. How on earth can a mere mortal ref get things 100% right in the heat of the moment in a hotbed atmosphere of a vital match?

A bad decision could rob a team of a vital point, a vital win, a trophy, a championship, or a World Cup! Not exactly VAR, but talking of World Cups, England World Cup winner, Sir Geoff Hurst says he wishes goal-line technology had been introduced 50 years ago – to stop the Germans complaining about his controversial World Cup final goal.

West Germany have always claimed Hurst’s second goal in England’s 4-2 win in the 1966 final did not cross the line after it bounced down off the crossbar. TV replays do seem to back up that theory, yet a definitive answer will never be established – “If we had this system 50 years ago, it would have shown quite clearly the ball was at least a foot over the line,” he said.

A couple of other advantages of using VAR. Match fixing could become a thing of the past, with dodgy decisions made by bent refs being overturned and surely that striker will think twice about a dive in the box, knowing that his actions, under greater scrutiny, may expose them to the inevitable yellow to follow.

So, let me try to answer the doubter’s fears.

Does VAR undermine the authority of the officials? I think not. To be fair, referees manage to do a very difficult job, on the whole. Very well, but they are making too many mistakes and their abilities are being overtaken by the general pace and vigour of modern football. VAR should be seen as additional support for the officials, and I feel that eventually officials will wonder how they ever managed without it.

Decisions are subjective. I have heard it said that VAR sometimes gets a decision wrong and that many incidents are very subjective. I am confident that mistakes made by VAR decisions will always be far outweighed by live match officials mistakes. The chance to have a second or third look at an incident surely guarantees that a more accurate appraisal is made.

It will slow down the game. The usual cry when technology is debated is, it will slow down the game – I think technology will add to the game. The use of technology in rugby and tennis and the way it is presented to the fans is excellent and enhances the spectacle – football must learn to move with the times. Perhaps we, as football fans, must adapt and embrace these new innovations. The technology is here, available and relatively cheap to implement, Surely the benefits of getting decisions right – decisions that could cost a team millions, far outweigh a couple of breaks in a match.

In conclusion, I fully appreciate the initial fears that fans have, however I do believe that the increasing use of technology will have to be embraced. Of course, the procedures will have to get slicker and officials will need to become more efficient in managing the systems – this will come with time. At the moment VAR actions are great for TV viewers but fans in the stadiums need to be better informed and large screens within stadia are essential.

If you are worried by the current technology, just wait for the arrival of AI with algorithms being used to instantly make decisions.

Come on football – prepare to drag yourself grudgingly into the 21st century.

With thanks to Russ

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