The Irish Sun, in an article by Adrian Chiles [source], raises the question of whether the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system in football could be a strategy to introduce breaks into the sport, primarily for the purpose of generating advertising revenue. This idea likens the use of VAR in football to the commercial breaks common in American sports like the Super Bowl.
Adrian Chiles opens up a thought-provoking discussion on the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in soccer. It hypothesizes that VAR, commonly utilized for crucial decision-making in matches – like confirming goals, reviewing offside errors, and assessing player conduct – might have an ulterior motive. He suggests that VAR could be strategically used to create advertising breaks in soccer games, similar to commercial intervals in American sports like the Super Bowl. This perspective views the introduction of VAR in soccer not just as a means to enhance game fairness through replays and reviews, but potentially as a commercial tactic to capitalize on these intermissions for advertising gains.
Adrian Chiles humorously observes the fickle nature of football fans towards the Video Assistant Referee system. Fans shift from detesting VAR when it disallows their team’s goal, to adoring it when it negates the opposition’s score, especially with a penalty incident. Hard to imagine what was happening in watchalong communities once this happening with their beloved team. Chiles points out the proposal to extend VAR’s role to scrutinizing corners, free kicks, and yellow cards, suggesting this might dilute the dynamic fan interactions during games.
As a West Brom supporter, Chiles expresses unexpected empathy for Wolverhampton Wanderers, who have been on the receiving end of several controversial VAR decisions. He criticizes the intensive scrutiny of every play, which ironically leads to more errors, contradicting VAR’s aim to reduce human error in decision-making. Chiles also touches on the future of VAR and technology in football, contemplating a scenario where AI might fully take over, leading to potential fan uproar if errors persist.
In the final thoughts, Adrian articulates deep skepticism about the VAR’s role in football or soccer. He poses critical questions about its efficacy and viability, hinting that VAR, despite being created with good intentions, might be inherently flawed. He deftly interlaces various elements of soccer – the rhythm of play, the advancing technology, the dynamics between different teams, and the natural incidents that occur in the sport. Through this, Chiles captures the nuanced and often contentious impact of VAR on the beautiful game, illustrating its complex and sometimes contradictory influence on modern football.
VAR Meaning in Soccer/Football Context (Or What Does VAR Mean)
The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system plays a crucial role in modern football, not only in officiating but also impacting various aspects of the sport, including betting. As a match official, VAR assists the main referee by reviewing incidents and interpreting them using video footage. Since its formal integration into the Laws of the Game by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) in 2018, VAR has aimed to address “clear and obvious errors” and “serious missed incidents” in four specific categories: goals, penalties, direct red cards, and mistaken identity in awarding a red or yellow card.
VAR and assistant VARs (AVARs) automatically check every on-field referee decision that falls under these categories. A “silent check” is conducted when no mistake is found, causing no game delay. However, if a possible mistake is identified, the game may be paused for a VAR check. The final decision on whether to overturn a decision generally rests with the referee, who can choose to ignore the advice of the VAR. Decisions related to factual matters, like offside rulings, can be directly communicated to the referee without an on-field review (OFR). In contrast, subjective decisions, such as the severity of a foul, might require an OFR, which is conducted only upon VAR’s recommendation.
The OFR process involves the referee reviewing video replays in a designated area adjacent to the field, ensuring transparency. Slow motion is used for determining the point of contact in physical offences, while full-speed replays help assess the intensity of an offence.
In addition to the previously mentioned functions, VAR in soccer is also used to review video replays for handball incidents, to make decisions about the issuance of red card case, and to verify if the ball has fully crossed the goal line in crucial moments of a match. These reviews are essential in ensuring accurate decision-making in critical situations, thereby upholding the integrity of the game.
Is VAR Ruining Football? Insights from Players
Players’ opinions on VAR in soccer reveal a mix of frustration and concern. James Milner and Jordan Henderson from Liverpool have expressed their dissatisfaction with VAR, especially concerning tight offside calls. Milner even went on social media to express his falling out of love with the game due to VAR’s impact.
Kevin De Bruyne from Manchester City echoed similar sentiments, highlighting the confusion caused by frequent rule changes and the inconsistency in the application of VAR. He stressed the need for consistency in the rules of football.
Henderson also shared his frustration, stating that the constant discussion about VAR incidents detracts from the actual game of football. He expressed a preference for playing without VAR, citing the changes and confusion it has brought to the sport.
These players’ comments reflect a growing sentiment among professional footballers, who feel that VAR, while implemented to improve fairness in decision-making, is complicating the game and alienating those who play it.
When Was VAR Introduced to Football?
The introduction of VAR (Video Assistant Referee) to football was a significant development in the sport’s history, shaped by the need to enhance decision-making accuracy by officials. The concept originated from the Refereeing 2.0 project led by the Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB) in the early 2010s. After initial trials during the 2012-13 Eredivisie season, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) approved more extensive trials in 2016.
The first live trial occurred in July 2016 in a friendly match between PSV and FC Eindhoven, followed by the first professional, non-friendly use in a KNVB Cup match between Ajax and Willem II in September 2016. The testing of technology passed well, and information the match officials got from it pushed the technology forward. The 2016 FIFA Club World Cup then saw the use of VAR with a pitchside monitor. In 2017, Australia’s A-League became the first top-flight professional club competition to use VAR, and Major League Soccer in the United States introduced it in its 2017 season. European top-flight leagues like the Bundesliga and Serie A incorporated VAR in the 2017-18 season, and La Liga followed in the 2018-19 season and match competitions.
The IFAB formally wrote VAR into the Laws of the Game in March 2018. The English Premier League adopted VAR from the 2019-20 season following a vote in November 2018. In Japan, the Emperor’s Cup Final in January 2020 was the first match to use VAR, which also served as preparation for introducing VAR into Olympic football.
Currently, Champions League and other big soccer competitions are using VAR on daily basis.
Pros And Cons of VAR in Football
Advantages of VAR
- Improved Decision Making: VAR enables referees to make more informed decisions during critical incidents in a match, helping to correct initial errors numbers and ensuring fairer outcomes.
- Increased Excitement: The suspense and drama during the review process can heighten the excitement and engagement of fans and players, adding another layer of thrill to the game.
- Enhanced Player Discipline: Knowing that their actions are subject to review, players are more likely to adhere to rules, reducing instances of foul play and maintaining the integrity of the sport.
- Reduced Controversy: VAR helps to decrease the frequency of controversial decisions by providing additional angles and evidence for more accurate rulings.
- Better Fairness and Justice: The technology aids in avoiding critical errors that could significantly impact the outcome of games, promoting a sense of fairness and justice in the sport.
Disadvantages of VAR
- Time Consumption: The review process can significantly slow down the game, leading to potential disruptions in the flow and momentum, especially in critical moments.
- Lack of Transparency: The absence of public access to the communication between the VAR team and the referee can create doubts and questions among fans, players, and officials.
- Potential for Incorrect Decisions: Despite its technological advantages, VAR is not infallible and can still lead to incorrect decisions, sometimes exacerbating controversies rather than resolving them.
- Impact on Referee Confidence: There’s a concern that reliance on VAR may undermine referees’ confidence in their judgment, especially with a replay operator help, affecting their ability to make independent decisions during the game.
Technology and Equipment
The process for reviewing decisions generally works in two ways. First, the VAR team can recommend a review if they identify a clear error, and then the main referee can choose to overturn the decision, stick with their initial decision, or review the incident themselves on a monitor on the side of the pitch. Secondly, the main referee can request a review after making a decision. In both scenarios, the final decision rests with the main referee, who communicates the outcome to players and spectators.
VAR’s technological infrastructure was enhanced during the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar with the introduction of semi-automated offside technology. This system included cameras placed around the stadium and a sensor within the ball to track player positions more accurately. The aim was to make offside calls quicker and more precise, thereby maintaining the flow of the game. Johannes Holzmüller, FIFA’s Director of Football Technology & Innovation, emphasized the system’s role in providing the best support for referees to make fast, accurate, and consistent decisions.
At the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, the VAR technology setup included a centralised video operations room at the international broadcast centre of the stadium. The VAR team, comprising one video assistant referee, three assistants, and four replay operators, had access to all 33 camera feeds covering the matches. This setup also included exclusive access to two special offside cameras and two cameras focused on the referees themselves to make their decision process public
So, How Has VAR Changed Football?
It has significantly transformed football by enhancing the accuracy and fairness of crucial decision-making during matches. It has reduced the frequency of controversial calls, leading to a more just adjudication of incidents like goals, penalties, and red card offenses. The technology’s ability to review plays from multiple angles has improved overall decision-making, even as it introduces new dynamics like suspense during reviews and heightened drama. However, it has also altered the pace of the game, sometimes disrupting the flow with review processes and impacting the confidence of referees in their decision-making. This blend of technological advancement and its effects on the traditional aspects of the game marks a new era in football, one where accuracy is prioritized but not without its challenges and debates.
VAR Most Controversial Mistakes
Continuing our look at how VAR has reshaped the beautiful game, it’s noteworthy to mention that while VAR has definitely brought a fairer edge to football, it’s also stirred up its fair share of controversy, especially in crucial matches. These incidents take place in real events, some of which would make even the most stoic of Irish fans shake their heads, highlight the system’s potential for error and its substantial impact on the game. Some of the most talked-about VAR blunders, stirring debates in pubs and living rooms across Ireland and beyond, include:
Arsenal vs Brentford, 2022-23 Premier League Season
Arsenal was denied a victory when Brentford’s Ivan Toney equalized in the 74th minute. However, the assist provider, Christian Norgaard, was clearly offside, a fact overlooked by VAR referee Lee Mason, leading to Arsenal settling for a draw.
West Ham United vs Chelsea, 2022-23 Premier League Season
Chelsea was denied a clear penalty when West Ham’s Tomas Soucek, while falling to the ground, blocked Conor Gallagher’s shot with his hand. VAR judged Soucek’s arm to be in a natural position due to his fall, leading to widespread criticism.
Manchester City vs Southampton, 2020-21 Premier League Season
Phil Foden was fouled by goalkeeper Alex McCarthy but chose to stay on his feet, missing a scoring opportunity. VAR advised no penalty, sparking debate over penalizing honesty in the game.
Tottenham vs Newcastle, 2020-21 Premier League Season
A new handball rule led to Eric Dier being penalized for handball in the penalty box despite having his back to the ball and being in mid-jump. The penalty awarded after a VAR review allowed Newcastle to secure a point from the match.
Iran vs Portugal, 2018 FIFA World Cup
In this match’s final minutes, Iran was awarded a penalty for a handball by Soares, who had little time to move his hand away. This decision, along with Cristiano Ronaldo escaping a red card for elbowing, highlighted the controversy surrounding VAR’s introduction in the World Cup.
Juventus vs Salernitana, 2022-23 Serie A
Juventus was denied a winning goal by Arkadiusz Milik in injury time due to an offside call by VAR. However, another angle showed Antonio Candreva playing the offside player onside, costing Juventus crucial points.
Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Manchester City, 2021-22 Premier League
A penalty was awarded to Manchester City for a handball, even though replays showed the ball hitting the player’s armpit. VAR’s backing of the referee’s decision was heavily criticized, especially as City won the league by a single point that season.
Paris St Germain vs Newcastle, Champions League
In a dramatic Champions League encounter between Paris St Germain and Newcastle, the match was overshadowed by a contentious VAR decision. As the game neared its conclusion at the Parc des Princes, Newcastle’s Tino Livramento was involved in a debatable handball incident, leading to a penalty for PSG. Kylian Mbappe skillfully scored from the spot, denying Newcastle a notable victory.
Eddie Howe, Newcastle’s manager, voiced his frustration: “It wasn’t the right decision in my opinion… The ball hits his chest first, comes up and hits his hand. But his hand is not in an unnatural position.” He stressed the challenge in interpreting such a fast-paced event and the disappointment from the decision.
It is disappointing… I just try to enjoy football, but I am tired of discussing these matters, whether good or bad… Nothing can change it.Kieran Trippier, Newcastle’s player
The VAR official, Thomas Kwiatkowski, faced repercussions, being removed from his next scheduled duty. This incident not only prompted strong reactions from Newcastle but also intensified the debate over VAR’s role and reliability in decisive match situations.
These instances truly highlight how VAR can shake things up in the world of football, much like a spirited debate in a cozy Irish pub after a contentious match. VAR, in numerous cases, has clarified pivotal moments, yet its role in the game is as variable as the Irish weather – sometimes brightening the match with clear decisions, other times casting a shadow with questionable calls. The value of VAR is debated far and wide, from local clubs to international tournaments, as it can dramatically swing the outcome of a match, leaving a mix of contentment and frustration among fans, players, and coaches. This technology, armed with numerous video replays and a network of people operating it, has the potential to strengthen the game’s defense against unfair play. However, its current application often leads to as many questions as answers. Whether it’s a small club game or a grand tournament, the number of controversial VAR decisions continues to grow, making it a hot topic in football circles. While aiming to bring fairness and accuracy, VAR sometimes ends up stirring a hornet’s nest, leaving a complex legacy in its wake.